How Energy-efficient Electronics Work

Energy Star and Other Energy-conserving Initiatives

The Energy Star logo is a familiar sight on the packaging of thousands of consumer electronics.
The Energy Star logo is a familiar sight on the packaging of thousands of consumer electronics.
Image courtesy Energy Star

In 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced a new program called Energy Star to show consumers how much energy the products they buy actually use. Since its inception, 12,000 electronics and appliance manufacturers have voluntarily complied with increasingly strict Energy Star standards. As a result, more than 40,000 individual products boast the highly recognizable Energy Star label [source: Energy Star].

Energy Star first began with computers and computer monitors. Over the years, the product categories and published standards have expanded to include residential heating and cooling systems, home appliances, lighting systems, and every type of office and home electronics equipment.

In 2007 alone, Americans using Energy Star products helped prevent 40 million metric tons (44.1 tons) of greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere [source: Energy Star]. That's the equivalent of taking 27 million cars off the road for an entire year. The EPA also estimates that in 2007, Americans using Energy Star products saved $16 billion on their electric bills [source: Energy Star].

Energy Star is the most recognizable energy-conservation initiative for consumer electronics, but it's not the only one. The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) is a newer rating system that grades the overall environmental impact of various consumer electronics products. Among the criteria are how much of the gadget's materials can be recycled, whether any of the components are toxic and whether the product meets existing or pending Energy Star standards.

Products that meet all of EPEAT's required criteria earn a bronze label. Those that meet all required criteria plus 50 percent of optional standards get a silver label, and those that meet all required criteria plus 75 percent or more of the optional standards get a gold rating.

All computers require a power supply, a small box that converts AC power coming from the wall to the DC power that runs the device. Historically, a lot of energy was lost in this conversion process. In 2004, a new incentive program called 80 Plus was funded by American utility companies to encourage manufacturers to build more efficient power supplies for desktop and notebook computers and servers. To qualify for an 80 Plus rating, a power supply must be 80 percent efficient or greater.

Over the years, American utility companies have funded more than $5 million worth of incentives for computer makers and power supply manufacturers to improve the efficiency of their products. As a result, more than 600 power supplies that have achieved the 80 Plus rating [source: 80 Plus]. And even better, the recently published Energy Star standards for new computers requires that internal power supplies carry the 80 Plus seal of approval.

Televisions are some of the biggest energy hogs in your house. Let's look at the most and least efficient types of TVs and what's on the horizon for greening the small screen.