Energy efficiency standards for computers

November 8th, 2011 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority is proposing minimum energy performance standards and labelling for computers.

This has a certain deja vu, with the proposed maximum flow for shower nozzles in 2008, on the grounds of energy efficiency.

I’m all in favour of energy efficiency labelling. This allows consumers to make informed choices. When I buy a fridge or a washer/dryer, I always look at the labels and they form part of the decision on what model to purchase.

But it is another thing to have the Government regulate a minimum energy efficiency for a type of device.  Consumers pay for their electricity, and they are best placed to decide if the cost of having a less energy efficient device outweighs the benefits.

This proposal is a form of . If agreed to, it would be the Government dictating to consumers what computers they are allowed to buy within NZ. The alternative option of mandatory labelling should be chosen instead. If the Government should not dictate out shower flow speed, neither should they dictate what computers can be purchased.

Having said that, I would point out that the comparison with shower nozzles is only partial. It is quite possible that requiring computers to be more energy efficient will not affect the performance of the computer in any noticeable way. The main impact is probably an extra $20 on the price. While the proposal to limit the pressure in showers, would absolutely and noticeably have affected the performance of the shower.

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12 Responses to “Energy efficiency standards for computers”

  1. PaulL (5,776 comments) says:

    Depends how they measure efficiency. Power per MIP, sure. But just power usage in total – means no overclocking, no water cooling, no raid arrays? Broadly sounds like a stupid idea. No problem with labelling though.

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  2. Richard29 (377 comments) says:

    Interesting point but unfortunately this statement is not really true:
    “Consumers pay for their electricity, and they are best placed to decide if the cost of having a less energy efficient device outweighs the benefits.”

    Behavioural economics has shown again and again that consumers discount future costs in their purchase decisions even when it is against their own long term interests.

    “When I buy a fridge or a washer/dryer, I always look at the labels and they form part of the decision on what model to purchase.”

    When I bought our washing machine I also did a calculation based on the per annum electricity usage, the number of years I expected to use the machine and the current per unit cost I was paying for electricity, as a result of this calculation I ended up purchasing a slightly higher model machine with a more efficient rating because the additional cost would be repaid in 24 months through energy savings. But I don’t even pretend to believe that you or I represent the average consumer in this regard.

    This is a simple common sense policy – it’s got very little in the way of compliance costs for business as comparable export markets to us already have similar standards.

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  3. wreck1080 (3,533 comments) says:

    there goes the market for gamers!!!

    One round of bf3 could power nelson.

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  4. KiwiGreg (3,129 comments) says:

    How about we improve our government efficiency and abolish this waste of air space organisation.

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  5. ben (2,386 comments) says:

    Good post David.

    There is no limit to the intervention the government can do if the basic proposition that consenting adults who are paying their own way and who harm nobody else are acting in their own interests even if it is not obvious why. The government cannot help but make things worse if it decides to force consumers into efficiency vs feature trade offs they did not select voluntarily for themselves.

    This argument is important: it is about the last defence to rampant bureaucratic intervention in everything, and a substantial reduction in living standards. If the government is allowed to reject the proposition that consumers cannot act in their own interests on anything (and its bad enough with alcohol and really bad with recreational drugs) then the next stop is 1984.

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  6. ben (2,386 comments) says:

    Richard29

    Behavioural economics has shown again and again that consumers discount future costs in their purchase decisions even when it is against their own long term interests.

    Behavioural economics is not well respected in the profession, probably one step above Keynes. Partly because behavioural economists place zero weight on the existence of government failure and public choice.

    Discounting is not a reason for intervention. Behavioural economists must accept that consumers do discount the future and that failure to account for that in a model will produce policies that make the consumer worse off, not better.

    Even if a consumer who wants to go to the gym tomorrow never makes it, because hyperbolic discounting in their preferences causes them to care too much about the up front cost (pain, effort, discomfort) to ever make it to the long term benefit of fitness, that is their preferences. Forcing the guy to go to the gym against his revealed preference lowers his utility ex ante, even if, after the fact, he reports being pleased he went. Such is discounting.

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  7. Elaycee (4,089 comments) says:

    “When I bought our washing machine I also did a calculation based on the per annum electricity usage”…… “But I don’t even pretend to believe that you or I represent the average consumer in this regard.”

    You’ve got that right. If I/we want to buy something, the list of things considered would include functionality / performance and the ability of the thing to do what we wanted etc. And if the boxes are ticked, then we’ll buy it. But to calculate whether a washing machine uses another 10 units of power per cycle? Nah – why would you bother? Do you have to count the number of times you use warm water instead of cold and factor that in as well? Nah – of course not.

    Its as daft as keeping supermarket coupons and traipsing all over town to get the ‘best’ deals for your groceries – but in the meantime it has cost another $5-$10 in fuel for the car and wasted an hour of your time.

    What’s that? You do keep supermarket coupons???

    Oh oh…

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  8. Lance (2,311 comments) says:

    We use EECA as a swear word around here

    They have pretty much pissed off everyone in the renewable energy sector, so much more scope to piss off more people though.
    Real technology and methods are spurned by EECA in favour of TV ads and bullshit. So instead they come up with this sort of drivel.

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  9. insider (990 comments) says:

    I have no problem with the standards imposing a minimum that matches current industry standards to prevent a reduction in efficiency (as long as that doesn’t affect computing power). I do have a problem with a standard that is ‘aspirational’ and so picks winners or creates an artificial barrier to competition. We don’t build computers in NZ to any great extent so have no control. That said, if the market is moving efficiency upwards on its own, why waste bureaucratic time codifying it? Let the market do its thing. Also, define ‘computer’ in a way that doesn’t create minefields…

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  10. Lance (2,311 comments) says:

    Also when such issues arise in technology where banning is introduced you end up with a world of anomalies and injustices.

    Hypothetical point, some mega clever person invents the equivalent of a human brain. The human brain consumes around 100 watts of energy with a cyclical decision rate of around 20-50Hz depending on the function.
    On a pure MIPs rating this looks like a tin of shit and is banned because they have no scale for massively parallel and interconnected decisions.

    We have come up against a very similar circumstance where our energy controllers had to be software detuned to perform badly so they could pass the (govt) piece of shit computer model it was assessed against. Fucking academics

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  11. immigant (950 comments) says:

    That is so backward. What if I have to run to monsterously powerfull graphics card with seperate power suplies so my BF3 is crisp? Would that mean I would have to have special despensation from the guvmint to do that, Or will I risk a hefty prison sentance for running an aftermarket power supply? Will my computer be yellow stickered and crushed if discovered?

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  12. V (660 comments) says:

    Computers have been getting more power efficient over time as it is. We don’t need to have this authority for that to happen.
    I would back the guys at Intel any day of the week (whose sole focus it is to reduce chip power consumption) over a bunch of bureaus anyday.
    Companies already have every incentive to buy efficient computers as it directly affects their powerbill, especially for datacenters, large companies etc.

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