Center for American Progress

It’s Easy Being Green: How to Use Less Energy While Playing Video Games
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It’s Easy Being Green: How to Use Less Energy While Playing Video Games

A study highlights the energy costs of video game systems and how changes in the systems, along with consumer habits, can cut the nation’s electric bill.

A man plays an Xbox game at his home in Jupiter, FL. Video game systems use an estimated 16 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, which is roughly the annual electricity use of San Diego. (AP/Rick Silva)
A man plays an Xbox game at his home in Jupiter, FL. Video game systems use an estimated 16 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, which is roughly the annual electricity use of San Diego. (AP/Rick Silva)

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Turns out your addiction to the game Rock Band, the new Wii, or an Xbox could be costing you both money and energy. A report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council in November of last year found that popular video game consoles have a lot of room for improvement when it comes to energy efficiency.

The study found that game consoles (specifically the Xbox, Playstation, and Nintendo Wii) eat up an estimated 16 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year—an amount roughly equal to the annual electricity use of the city of San Diego. Differences in energy use existed between the systems: The Wii used one-seventh as much power as the Playstation 3 and one-ninth as much energy as the Xbox 360 during gaming. Differences were due to the fact that the Xbox and Playstation use high-end 3-D graphics that require more power to generate. Both manufacturers have taken steps in the last two years to reduce energy use in their systems.

The study also discovered that an estimated 50 percent of users do not turn their consoles off after playing (either through forgetfulness or by trying to save play), leading to higher energy use and costs. As an example, a Sony Playstation 3 user who leaves their console on 24/7 would pay $134 in electricity costs over the course of a year, compared to $12 for a user who turns their console off after play.

Another energy-gulping trait of the consoles is that most now incorporate additional entertainment features, such as the ability to play movies or connect to the Internet. Consoles playing DVDs use anywhere from four to seven times as much power as stand-alone Blu-ray disc players and as much as 24 times the power of a stand-alone DVD player.

The good news is that we can cut electric bills and still keep the imaginations of the U.S. gamer population engaged. The study recommended a number of power-saving strategies, including an auto power down feature for next-generation consoles, standard auto-save features for games, a “sleep” button on controllers, and more efficient processors and power supplies for consoles.

Through more user-friendly power management features for game systems, the United States could save an estimated 11 billion kWh of electricity annually, eliminating $1 billion in national electricity costs and cutting more than 7 million tons of CO2 emissions each year.

As evidenced by the Playstation example above, users can significantly cut home energy use and bills by simply turning the console off when done playing. Other tips include using the power saver mode on a Playstation or Xbox and using a different DVD player than the game system.

Energy Star, a joint Environment Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy program that certifies energy efficient consumer products, has already started setting guidelines for gaming consoles. To receive the Energy Star seal, consoles will have to use less than one watt of electricity during off mode, and less than five watts during sleep or auto-off mode. They will also have to power down to sleep mode after an hour of inactivity. The standards will be set next year and become effective July 1, 2010. Looking for consoles with the Energy Star seal in the future will be another way for users to save energy and costs.

You can apply the “turn off, save money and energy” strategy to other devices in your home as well, such as cell phone chargers, TVs, lights, and computers. In the average home, 75 percent of the electricity used to power these electronics is consumed while the products are turned off. This use can be cut by unplugging the device or using a power strip and using the switch on the power strip to cut all the power to the device. Considering that 20 percent of the average home’s energy bill comes from appliances and home electronics, cutting the electricity used for these products would mean substantial savings over time in monthly bills.

Read more articles from the "It’s Easy Being Green" series

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