Set Your Sights (and Your Computer Monitor’s Settings) for Super-Efficiency

By Jonathan Marshall

Energy efficiency is so last year. In 2013 it’s time to raise your sights and become super-efficient.

A good place to start is with your computer monitor, which draws power for hours each day and typically accounts for a third of a desktop computer’s energy use. Multiplied by hundreds of millions of users, computer monitors worldwide suck up the combined output of at least 10 large coal-fired power plants, according to SEAD, an initiative of several national energy agencies.

Computer monitors can zap energy when they're not being used.

SEAD—which stands for Super-efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment—this month announced a global competition to honor the most energy-efficient computer monitors in each of four regions: Australia, Europe, India and North America. The winners, to be announced in September, should receive valuable bragging rights to help boost their sales of the greenest screens.

The good news is you don’t have to wait until then to track down the most efficient models—or, if you’re not in the market, to learn how to use your existing monitor more efficiently.

One place to start is with the EnergyStar website, which lists relatively efficient models of a variety of consumer appliances, including TVs and dish washers as well as computers and monitors.

But if you won’t settle for anything less than super-efficient, check out the consumer site run by Top Ten USA. (Full disclosure: PG&E helped launch this organization as part of its commitment to helping customers achieve more energy efficiency.)

It lists the top 10 most efficient models in each of about 10 appliance categories, including small monitors and large monitors. Its selective recommendations can really make a difference: the No. 1 rated large monitor, for example, will save an estimated 247 kilowatt-hours over its lifetime relative to the average Energy Star-rated monitor, for a cost saving of up to $45 to the consumer. You can imagine how much it must save relative to the average mediocre monitor thrown into packaged deals by some computer stores.

Fortunately, more and more of the big electronics chains are taking efficiency seriously. In 2009, PG&E and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District launched the first-of-its-kind Business and Consumer Electronics program, along with Best Buy, Sears Holding Company, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club and Lenovo, to encourage manufacturers and retailers to educate, promote and sell the most energy-efficient televisions, desktop computers and monitors. (Sears honored PG&E for this program last year.)

If, like most of us, you already have a monitor, there are several steps you can take to cut down on energy waste:

  • Enable your computer’s energy management feature to put your monitor to sleep whenever your computer has been inactive for a reasonable period of time—say 30 minutes. If everyone in the United States used sleep mode, it would save more than a billion dollars a year in energy costs and 15 billion pounds of greenhouse gases.
  • Turn down the brightness setting. Studies show that many users have it adjusted too high for their room’s ambient light.
  • Avoid sunlight or reflections from windows, so your monitor doesn’t have to compete with stray light.
  • Don’t bother with screen savers—by defeating energy management software, they end up costing more energy and make your monitor run warmer when it’s not in use.

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