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Is your Xbox a vampire? Energy efficiency in consumer electronics is an epic, gothic fight

All the vampire metaphors in the world aren't making vampire power consumption less of a problem.
All the vampire metaphors in the world aren't making vampire power consumption less of a problem.

The answer, probably, is yes. Good magazine made an awesome graphic about this a while ago, showing what it might be costing you. According to one Cornell University study, you might have as many as 20 vampires lurking in your house, and your PlayStation or your plasma TV or your computer--they're only the start. That same study found that "your TV with remote control likely uses more energy during the 20 hours a day that it’s turned off and in a 'standby power' state than it does during the hours you watch the tube."  

What to do about that is in dispute, between the California Energy Commission and consumer electronics companies, and their fight just got a little bit bigger. 

If you're worried about vampire power sucking consumer electronics, you don't have a lot of options. You can religiously unplug everything and turn it off, but that won't work for your TiVo, which goes through a lengthy re-boot after being powered down. Investor-owned utilities like PG&E make a moderate-sized deal of recommending Energy Star appliances. But the Federal EnergyStar and EnergyGuide labels aren't required on consumer electronics. So all that useful information EnergyGuide requires, "an estimate of the product's energy consumption or energy efficiency...the highest and lowest energy consumption or efficiency estimates of similar appliance models." Optional for consumer electronics

Some regulators in California say that's why they need to step in. The Consumer Electronics Association doesn't want California to do this. And the CEA can exert a lot of pressure when it wants to: it's the trade-and-standards organization for 2200 companies including Apple, Sony and Nintendo of America, AltecLansing, Nikon, major plasma and LCD monitor and TV distributors, even retailers of consumer electronics like GameStop. It's also in charge of the annual event in Vegas that makes consumers' toes tingle with excitement over new tablets, refrigerators with TVs in them, and the like. So the CEA throwing down with the Energy Commission in a press release is something to watch: 

"California should not distinguish itself as the enemy of innovation. We continue to be concerned about how regulations are being justified and supported by the California Energy Commission,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, CEA. “The CEC’s approach, which focuses on setting artificial limits on consumer products, threatens to stifle innovation and economic growth within an industry already on the vanguard of energy efficiency. CEA supports programs defining energy usage consistently and conveying such information to consumers.

“Moreover, we embrace and sell the majority of products certified as meeting the voluntary standards of ENERGY STAR. Our nation’s need for innovation in leading areas like IT, the Internet, the cloud, entertainment and broadband may be threatened by technology mandates based on flawed justifications, as we have witnessed in three CEC rulemakings to date. We urge the state to work with us on proven approaches to sustainability, such as encouraging innovation in the field of eCycling, meeting green product standards, and educating policymakers and consumers alike on energy efficiency trends and savings opportunities.”

CEA says, essentially, trust us--we'll make it work; besides, in some cases, we already are. "Electronics manufacturers are leading the way to energy efficiency through innovation, competition and market-oriented programs such as ENERGY STAR. Proscriptive and questionable regulations from government only impede this innovation with artificial and counterproductive limits."

CEA is only one of a host of trade and industry groups whose products are up for review by either federal or state energy regulators. A report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy says that new or updated standards for nearly three dozen kinds of products could come before California or federal regulators in the next four years. The tension is pretty clear: are regulations backward looking, as CEA argues? Or are they the best way to give the industry a little incentive to do something? 

For the time being, there's one new market-driven solution to help you control the energy use of your consumer electronics. Basically, it's more consumer electronics

I strongly recommend getting yourself a Kill-A-Watt or similar device, so you can learn which products are costing you the most. Share your tips in the comments below.