In an initiative to improve computer power use - equivalent to shutting down twenty 500 megawatt coal-fired power plants - Google and Intel have set up the Climate Savers Computing Initiative.

The forty starting members, including AMD, Dell, HP, IBM and Sun, hope to better manage power-delivery and power management of computers to achieve this by 2010. Suppliers, businesses and individuals are being asked to join and help save $5.5 billion in energy costs.

Servers and PCs waste lots of power from the moment it enters their power cables. Google's SVP for operations, Urs Holzle, said: "The average desktop PC wastes nearly half of its power, and the average server wastes one-third of its power. The Climate Savers Computing Initiative is setting a new 90 percent efficiency target for power supplies, which if achieved, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 54 million tons per year - and save more than $5.5 billion in energy costs."

This can be done using today's technologies, such as more efficient, and more expensive, power cables. Such power cables would add $30 (£16) to a server's cost and increase a PC's price by $20 (£11).

Initial companies who intend to participate in the initiative represent both the demand and supply side of the computer industry, including computer manufacturers and chip makers, as well as environmental groups, energy companies, retailers, government agencies and more. The group will formalize its membership in coming weeks.

Holzle said: "We are asking businesses and individuals throughout the world to join with us to institute better power management of their computing equipment and purchase energy-efficient computers." Affiliate individual membership, with a commitment to purchase CSCI-certified kit, is free.

Computer and computer component manufacturers who support the initiative are committed to building energy-efficient products that meet or surpass the EPA's Energy Star guidelines. Businesses must also commit to requiring high efficiency systems for the majority of their corporate desktop PCs and volume server purchases, and to deploy and use power management tools on desktop PCs.

The CSCI website will help users learn how to take advantage of their existing computer's power-saving capabilities such as sleep and hibernate modes, which can reduce the amount of energy consumed by up to 60 percent. A CSCI white paper can be downloaded here.

The initiative's energy efficiency benchmarks will initially follow the EPA's Energy Star guidelines; but with increasing requirements during the next several years. For example, 2007 Energy Star specifications require that PC power supplies meet at least 80 percent minimum efficiency. The initiative would require a minimum of 90 percent by 2010. In addition, the initiative sets a higher efficiency target in the power supply for volume servers (1U and 2U single-socket and dual-socket systems): an increase from 85 percent to 92 percent efficiency by 2010.

Power-saving displays

A research corporation, iSuppli, focused on the electronics supply chain has forecast that production of lower-power displays is set to take off. The lowest-power ones are bi-stable displays which sustain images with zero-power consumption. According to iSuppli analyst Jennifer Colegrove, the necessary technologies are in place and the market for bi-stable display is expected to grow by a factor of twelve from this year until 2012.

However, this will not affect desktop and notebook computer screens which currently use low-power liquid crystal display (LCD ) technology, Colegrove said: "Bi-stable displays (are) well suited for use in flash-memory storage devices, smart cards and e-book applications. More than likely, heated competition between bi-stable displays and low-power LCDs will flare up soon as manufacturers of both technologies vie for the Electronic-Shelf-Label (ESL), Point-of-Sale (POS) and mobile-phone markets."

Combining low-power screen technology with the CSCI power delivery and management work it is likely that computers will be significantly more power-efficient by 2010 and thereafter, with consequent beneficial environmental results.