Power Electronics

Signs of Progress in Energy Conservation

The momentum behind government initiatives to encourage or mandate greater energy efficiency in electronic products is growing. At the end of last year, the California Energy Commission (CEC) issued regulations to ensure that external power supplies sold into the state met certain standards for energy efficiency and standby power consumption. These requirements will be mandatory starting next July.

Similar standards for external power supplies have been established, though typically on a voluntary basis, by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through its Energy Star Program; the China Certification Center for Energy Conservation Products (CECP); the European Union; and other international organizations.

In the coming year, other energy-saving regulations will also take effect. For example, Energy Star's revised requirements for telephony products become effective in July, dictating that products like cordless telephones and answering machines use an Energy-Star-qualified external power supply, while also limiting standby power consumption to 2.5 W or lower levels, depending on the product.

New efficiency standards will also be going into effect for appliances such as central air conditioners and heat pumps. In January, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) raises its requirements for these types of equipment. As a result, new air conditioners and heat pumps will need to be 30% more efficient than previously required.

These regulatory activities are just a sampling of efforts to drive more energy-efficient products into the marketplace. As we head into 2006, we should expect to hear about additional energy-saving initiatives, even as there are calls for many of the existing voluntary programs to be made mandatory. Naturally, many manufacturers in the power supply field are rooting for that to happen, since they stand to benefit from mandates for higher power efficiency.

While it's encouraging to hear that governments are exercising leadership by backing energy-efficiency regulations, there are even more encouraging signs that governments are leading the fight for energy conservation by their own actions. Here in the United States, the federal government is taking steps to save energy as a responsible energy consumer. In 2001, an U.S. executive order signed by President Bush mandated that all federal agencies buy products with low standby power consumption — 1 W or less, whenever possible.

However, the government is also playing a leading role in energy conservation through its commitment to renewable sources. In 1999, an executive order legislated that the federal government obtain 2.5% of its electricity needs from renewable energy sources by Sept. 30, 2005. Earlier this month, the DoE announced that the federal government has exceeded this goal with government agencies now consuming 2375 million kWh of renewable energy per year. That represents almost a 14-fold increase in renewable energy use since 1999. The federal government's annual use of biomass, geothermal, solar and wind power is enough to power 225,000 homes or a city the size of El Paso, Texas.

The federal government now has a new goal to meet, as the Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires the government to obtain 7.5% of its electrical power from renewable sources by 2013. The DoE's Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) will facilitate that goal by helping federal agencies purchase green power or deploy renewable technologies.

As the country's biggest energy consumer, the federal government's success in exploiting renewable energy sources — even when the percentages sound modest — can have a significant impact on our fossil-fuel-based energy consumption. And I hope the government's use of renewable energy paves the way for private industry and the general public to do the same.

Of course, many will argue that the government can and should do much more to support energy conservation and reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. But at least for now, all of these energy conservation programs move society in a direction that should benefit us environmentally and economically in the long run. The latter benefit should apply particularly to those working in power electronics, since so much of the progress in energy conservation will depend on the innovation in this field.

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