Holiday Challenge to Microsoft: Save Gamers up to $250 Million with Energy Saving Choice on Setup

The holidays are bringing some good news for gamers and those buying consoles for them: the newest releases for the Sony PlayStation4 and Microsoft Xbox One are more energy efficient than last year’s launch versions. Unfortunately, Microsoft is still being a Grinch about a simple setup change that could save Xbox One users up to $250 million on their energy bills.

Sony offered its PS4 users a nice gift this year in the form of significant efficiency and electricity bill savings. And while Microsoft also made some efficiency improvements, it has yet to give its new customers the ability to easily choose to set up the Xbox One console in the energy-saving mode. Instead, it arrives in the energy-gobbling “Instant on” mode and users must go deep into the settings menu to change it. Fixing that would be a present to its loyal gaming fans and everyone else impacted by climate disruption.

By the numbers

There’s no doubt that the latest-generation consoles will be high on many holiday gift lists. One year after launch, Sony already has shipped a whopping 15 million PlayStation 4s worldwide and Microsoft has sold an estimated 8 million Xbox Ones. The problem has been —and continues to be for Xbox One—the amount of energy these toys pull off the grid not only when they’re in use, but even while idle when gamers are asleep (like when Santa arrives) or if no one is home during the school or work day.

Earlier this year, an NRDC study looked at the PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo’s Wii U (the energy sipper of the three) and found these three gaming systems alone might come to consume as much 10 billion to 11 billion kilowatt hours (KWh) annually in the United States—enough electricity to power all the homes in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, for a year. That’s also the equivalent output of four large power plants, and their associated pollution. The cost to consumers for all that electricity?  Easily more than $1 billion annually.

The Xbox One actually draws less power for game play and movie streaming than the PS4, but it remains the biggest energy user because the console draws more than 12 watts (almost 40 percent of its overall annual energy use) for the 20 or so hours a day when the console is not in use and the user thinks he turned it off. The console essentially is sitting there waiting—forever if necessary—for a voice command. This one feature wastes $250 million worth of energy per year in the United States. (The Marine Corps is developing the personnel position of “unit energy manager” in every battalion whose duties would include patrolling barracks for such energy waste as Xbox consoles left on when not in use.)

Things are improving

Both Sony and Microsoft have released multiple software updates over the last year that apply retroactively to consoles already in use, including optimizations that have brought some welcome reductions in energy consumption:

  • Sony released a software update that shuts off the USB controller charging function after three hours in standby mode, when controllers are fully charged. This saves 5.5 watts or nearly 40 kWh annually, a 22 percent reduction in total energy use. This is a smart approach that provides power to consumers when they need it, and avoids wasting it when they don’t. Sony also improved the efficiency of its video streaming service “Video Unlimited” by 12 percent. For the 6 million models sold thus far in the United States, that update will produce $120 to $180 million in consumer energy bill savings over the lifetimes of the consoles.
  • Meanwhile, Microsoft has reduced the power use in its “Instant  on” mode from 18 watts at launch to 12.5 watts. This mode used to be responsible for nearly half of the console’s annual energy consumption. The updates reduce that to just under 40 percent—which is still way too high.

Both companies also released minor hardware upgrades. Consumers won’t be able to tell the difference from the outside—the gaming systems look exactly the same—but the new consoles purchased today are slightly more efficient than models launched earlier this year, by up to 7 percent across all modes for PS4, according to Sony.

Our wish list

We welcome these improvements, but much remains to be done to reduce energy waste when people aren’t using the consoles, particularly for the Xbox One.

Microsoft can improve its console by giving users a choice to opt out of the “Instant On” mode on initial setup, which is enabled by default out of the box and is responsible for 82 kWh annually. At the least, users should be informed of its energy impact.

Second, Microsoft should update the language on the power options screen. Currently, Xbox One users are encouraged to maintain the high-energy use settings. Gamers are not warned, however, that those settings suck down the most power, cost the most to run, and ultimately contribute to carbon pollution.

Meanwhile, all gamers can save on their energy bills without waiting for manufacturers to release more efficient models and software updates. They can adjust the power settings to ensure the console turns off after a while if it has been left on inadvertently. Users can also choose not to use their gaming system to stream movies because they use 30 to 45 times more power than a dedicated video player, such as Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku Media Player, or Amazon Fire TV to stream the exact same movie with the same image quality.

There are nearly 4 billion consumer electronics installed in our homes—including game consoles—and all these devices cost consumers more than $22 billion in electricity, much of it wasted. Along with the tips mentioned earlier, you can take advantage of NRDC’s 2014 Green Electronics Holiday Guide to help make your holiday a more energy efficient one.


Photo by Javier Domínguez Ferreiro under Creative Commons licensing