The Game Plan for Energy Efficient Video Game Consoles

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California is Setting the Standards: A Continuing Series on the California Energy Commission Process

The Game Plan for Energy Efficient Video Game Consoles 

There aren’t any standards in effect anywhere in the world to make sure that video game consoles aren’t wasting tons of energy, but California is now considering being the first to establish them. And not only could the energy standards save Californians $75 million annually on their utility bills, they could set the bar nationally – and worldwide.

Video game consoles today are vying to be the entertainment hub of your living room: they don’t just provide users with an increasingly realistic gaming experience and dazzling graphics, they can also play movies and music, display online photos, share games and content with friends via social media, surf the web, you name it.   


          (Photo by Javier Domínguez Ferreiro under Creative Commons licensing)

But they can also come with a hefty electricity bill if they’re not designed with energy efficiency in mind. The approximately 12 million game consoles in use in California today consume roughly 1,400 gigawatt hours annually in the Golden State, equivalent to half the annual output of a medium-size 500-megawatt power plant, and as much electricity as all the households in the city of Oakland use in a year.

Fortunately, the California Energy Commission is proposing to include game consoles in their current rulemaking for 15 product categories. This would save game console users $75 million annually in reduced electricity consumption, without interfering in any way with gaming capabilities because the standards are aimed at reducing power draw when the consoles perform secondary functions such as streaming video, or when they aren’t in use at all.

If energy efficiency standards are set for all 15 products under consideration, they could save Californians $1.2 billion annually on utility bills, benefiting every Californian both directly through energy bill savings and indirectly by reducing the unnecessary power-plant pollution that endangers our health and increases the number of wildfires and other extreme weather events in California. In addition, a lower energy bill means higher disposable income that will get reinvested in the state’s economy, creating local jobs instead of capital-intensive fossil fuel investments made far from California.

What are the key opportunities to save energy in video game consoles?

The current generation of game consoles -- the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii -- has come a long way in terms of energy efficiency since they were first introduced in 2005 and 2006. The early models of the Xbox 360 and PS3 used nearly 200 watts in active mode, whether to play a game, watch a movie or navigate the menu. That’s the equivalent of two ENERGY STAR-qualified 60-inch TVs! And they didn’t power down by themselves if users forgot to switch them off. The latest models now use less than 80 watts to play games and slightly more than 60 watts to stream a movie, which is a roughly 60 percent reduction. They have also implemented functions that allow them to power down to sleep modes and reduce their electricity use to a trickle when not in use for an extended period of time.

However, they still use a significant amount of energy: anywhere between 100 kilowatt hours per year with the auto-power down function enabled, and 300 kilowatt hours per year if left on all the time, the equivalent of running a 60 watt-equivalent LED light bulb (13 watt actual) day and night for nearly one and three years respectively. Most of that energy is spent performing tasks other than gaming, such as streaming video that uses approximately 60 watts on current generation consoles compared to less than 1 watt on an Apple TV. That’s right, a factor of 60:1 to play the same high-definition (HD) movie! Energy efficiency standards will ensure that the next generation of game consoles, and the current ones still on the market by 2015, are designed to stream movies and navigate menus with much lower power use.

The other major energy-saving opportunity lies in ensuring that consoles go into “deep sleep” with very-low power use when you’re asleep at night or not home during the day, not a “light sleep” mode that still draws a fair amount of power. If on round-the-clock, “light sleep’s” 10 watts or so power draw can add up to more than half of a console’s annual energy use, as is the case with the Wii and its “Wii Connect 24” mode.

This is especially important for next generation consoles that will feature a “Connected and Ready” mode, waiting for a network signal or voice command to activate. This is a great feature, but it needs to be designed to use very-low power if the console spends a significant portion of its time in that mode. It also may not need to wait for a voice command in the middle of the night or when no one is home.

Game plan for savings and other benefits

NRDC and the California investor-owned utilities (Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric) submitted a proposal to the Energy Commission, covering power use in video streaming, menu navigation, and sleep modes, and requiring each console to be shipped configured to power down when the user has stopped using it for an extended period of time. These proposed levels for video streaming, menu navigation, and sleep mode have already been achieved and far exceeded by other devices performing the same functions, such as video streaming boxes like the Apple TV or Roku box, as well as gaming laptop computers.

The standards’ estimated $75 million annual electricity bill savings do not even include additional savings from reduced air conditioning use, nor other benefits such as the increased comfort from quieter consoles with smaller fans, and of course lower health risks from reduced power plant pollution and climate change.

In addition, because game consoles are designed for the global market, California standards will end up reducing game console energy use in the entire United States and the world, which will ultimately also benefit Californians as air pollution and climate change know no borders.