High-Speed Modems and Routers: Little Black Boxes, Big Energy Hogs

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Today, you can walk into a store and get a nice, big, flat-screen TV that uses one-third the energy of older models, and has better features. You can get a powerful 14-inch laptop that uses a lot less energy than a machine built a few years ago, with longer battery life and an even brighter display. But your high-speed modem and router—those little blinking boxes that you use to stream video, get email, zap a document to your wireless printer—could be eating up as much energy as your TV, and twice as much as your laptop.

What a waste.

At NRDC, we’ve worked with industry and government to help make home electronics more energy efficient, saving money for consumers and reducing carbon pollution from power plants. While we’ve made progress on cutting energy waste from televisions, computers, gaming systems and power supplies, until now, no one had looked at the energy use of devices like modems and routers. 

It’s a good thing we did. There are 145 million of these small network devices in U.S. households. These seemingly insignificant little boxes are always on—and they consume more than $1 billion and 3 dirty coal power plants' worth of electricity each year, according to a new analysis released by NRDC. Cumulatively, they use as much energy as every household in Silicon Valley. At home, modems and routers can eat more energy than a new, energy-efficient 32-inch TV.

There’s no need for these devices to guzzle power all day and night. Some manufacturers are already using power-scaling technology in modems and routers, which allows them to use less power when they're just sitting around waiting to receive or send data, without sacrificing speed or convenience. Next year, these efficient modems and routers will bear the blue Energy Star label. You can find them on store shelves, or ask your internet service provider to swap out your old device for an Energy Star model as part of your subscription package.

When you do so, you’ll save money on your electric bill, and help reduce pollution from power plants. On a large scale, replacing old modems and routers with models that are among the 25 percent most efficient in their category would save consumers $330 million on electric bills every year.

All this, from a small tweak to a little black box. That’s what’s so great about energy efficiency—like those unassuming modems and routers, it’s so humble, yet such a powerful tool.  Energy efficiency puts money back in our pockets, and it’s the cheapest, cleanest, fastest way to reduce global warming pollution.

[This post is part of NRDC’s Wasteland series, featuring people, towns, businesses and industries that are finding innovative ways to cut waste, boost efficiency and save money, time and valuable resources.]