California To Require More-Efficient Chargers For Mobile Devices

In a move that will likely have a huge ripple effect in the mobile device accessory market nationwide, the California Energy Commission approved the nation’s first ever energy standards for the chargers you use to power up everything from your phone and tablet to your power drill.

Most charging devices leach out a large chunk — upwards of 60% — of their energy through heat and other inefficiencies.

According to the L.A. Times, the new regulations, when fully in force, will save enough previously wasted electricity to power 350,000 homes and cut about $306 million each year off electric bills in California alone. Additionally, it should reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the state by 1.8 million tons a year, equal to pulling 138,000 cars off the road.

“[B]y taking a few relatively simple steps to improve battery chargers, we can save so much electricity, take care of the environment and save ratepayers money,” said Energy Commissioner Karen Douglas.

Of course, manufacturers will end up charging more once they have to include higher-efficiency chargers. But the energy savings costs should more than offset the extra price.

The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates every $.01 in incremental cost it takes to make a product more efficient results in $.07 in energy savings over the life of that product.

With more than 37 million people, California is by far the most populous state in the nation. So it would seem to make sense that manufacturers would go ahead and convert all their chargers to meet the higher California standards, rather than produce a version that only sells in that state.

What also remains to be seen if some consumers and legislators will have a negative reaction similar to the backlash to the phasing out of the most inefficient incandescent lights.

California imposes energy standards on chargers for mobile devices [LA Times]

Big Energy Savings from Battery-Powered Products, while Recharging Consumers Wallets [NRDC]

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  1. nagiom says:

    Let’s stop acting like this is going to save us money. The technology will cost consumers more at the register and utilities will ask the government for a price hike which will be granted by the legislators they paid for.

    • SpinnyD says:

      And because of the higher price at the register any replacements or spares will be bought on Amazon straight from china and will not be nearly as efficient either.

    • Coles_Law says:

      Actually, the state’s numbers look pretty good on this one:

      http://www.energy.ca.gov/2011publications/CEC-400-2011-001/CEC-400-2011-001-SD.PDF

      (p. 18)

    • Thalia says:

      Yes, the technology is likely to cost consumers more by about 10 cents per charger. Do you really think this will impact actual costs of consumer devices being sold for hundreds of dollars?

      Reducing power consumption will make it less likely that utilities will need to increase their generation capability, which is mostly what they ask those rate hikes for. So I have no idea why you want to link those two things.

    • Jawaka says:

      I’m wondering if its possible for an article to ever be posted here that didn’t receive negative comments. My God, you’d think that more efficient charges would be a good thing yet people will complain about anything.

      • MeowMaximus says:

        Well since California has solved all of its other problems, it is now time to focus on the vital issue of mobile charger efficiency.

  2. Rachacha says:

    In reading the article, I have to question the California Energy Commission’s estimates of the cost increase. Redesigning power supplies to be more efficient will require higher tolerance components and power supplies that are more closely matched with the power consumption requirements of the device which will require a manufacturer to carry a greater number of supplies. For example, Dell computer has 3 basic laptop power supplies for the 30+ model computers it makes, a travel supply, a 65 watt supply and a 90 watt supply. If they have a laptop that draws 45Watts, they give it a 65 watt supply. If it draws 66 watts, they give it a 90 watt supply. Dell will need to carry more supplies to make the level more incremental. More SKUs means higher cost. Internal components with tighter tolerances will cost more than the $0.50 that the commission suggests.

    I am not opposed to spending more for a more efficient supply, but I think that the commission needs to take a hard look at the increased costs and potential savings.

    • GoodBytes says:

      You know that Dell Power Supply (like all power supplies) consumes what is required.
      If the laptop consumes 80W… then about ~80-85W is drawn.. from a 90W power supply.

      A more efficient power supply would mean that the level it takes from the wall will more closely match the laptop.

      Example: My PC has a 750W… It doesn’t draws 750W from the wall. But it is 80Plus Gold certified, In other words 90% efficient. Meaning that the power supply 10% more than what the computer needs, and not.. let’s say 50-60%, like those cheap power supply for computer. Where goes the excess power? It turns in into heat. That is why Power Supply have a fan.
      In my case, the fan doesn’t spin when my system is at idle.. or listening to music and surf the web/check e-mails. But of course it does when I start using my computer for much more demanding tasks.

    • kc2idf says:

      I have one for my work machine that is actually a 125W supply, so there may actually be more different options than you realize.

      More to the point, though, a power supply will have a particular range where it is operating at its most efficient. Exceed that range, even if you are not exceeding the specs of the supply, and you will lose more power (as a percentage) to heat. Drop below it and you lose more power (as a percentage) in overhead.

    • mischlep says:

      That’s really not true. In computer power supplies, just because a power supply is rated at a certain wattage, it does not mean that the power supply always supplies that level of power to the system.

      Power supplies are rated based on how efficient they are in converting their supply into power provided to the components. If a computer drew 300 watts to power its components, but drew 400 watts from the wall, the power supply would be considered 75% efficient. The power supplies used for Facebook’s “Open Compute” servers are up to 94.5% power efficient.

      Source: http://www.anandtech.com/show/4958/facebooks-open-compute-server-tested/4

      There is a certification process for comptuer power supplies called “80 Plus”. Computer supplies that meet 80% efficiency at 20%, 50% and 100% of their rated loads. There are higher levels of certification as efficiency increases.

      If the components are NOT drawing that power, then the power supply is not going to pull that power from the wall. Plug in a laptop or a computer into a Kill-A-Watt or similar device and you can see what your computer is actually pulling from the wall despite the maximum power rating of the power supply. Dell would not need to stock these “incremental” power supplies as you call it, they might have to stock ones that are more efficient.

      • ldillon says:

        Basically correct. Computer power supplies do not constantly draw their rated wattage; only what the computer is currently using. They do tend to be most efficient near their rated wattage, though.

  3. booboloo says:

    Is that even true anymore? Most phone chargers and the rest are solid state now right? The lead weight plugs are kind of rare now.

    • ARP says:

      As others have said, you can design the power supplies to be more efficient using better components and design. Think of it this way, any heat coming off a charger is waste. Some of it is inevitable, but you can improve things.

  4. huadpe says:

    I know enough electrical engineering to know that I don’t know the answer to this, but will this increase, or decrease the average charge time for most batteries? Because if it makes charging slower, people will be upset. My intuition is that they will be slower (and probably allow more charge cycles over product lifetime due to not overvolting), but this is not my area of expertise.

    • Rachacha says:

      Where you are going to see some big changes are in the cheap no name transformer wall warts that manufacturers pick up for $0.50 each in quantity. You can increase efficiency by using higher tolerance components and investing engineering time into the supply design so that it runs very close to its design limits. By using lower tolerance components, the supply output is a bit “sloppy” so they have to over engineer the components in the supply causing more power wasted.

      The other way to cut consumption is to better match the device and the supply, so rather than using a 100Watt supply on a device that consumes 50 watts, you will use a 55watt supply.

  5. pot_roast says:

    And people wonder why businesses (and people – its population has been held steady because of births) are moving out of California.

    • BorkBorkBork says:

      Aside from the weather, I can’t see any reason to ever move to that awful state. And even the weather doesn’t make up for everything else.

      • Round-Eye §ñ‰∫∫„ÅØ„Ç≥„É≥„Çπ„Éû„É™„ÉÉ„Çπ„Éà„ÅåÂ•Ω„Åç„Åß„Åô„ÄÇ says:

        What reasons do you have for *not* moving there? Disclosure, I am a Californian, but I’m curious to know why you dislike it so much. I have my own reasons to throw a side eye at Cali from time to time, but it’d be interesting to hear what someone from one of the lesser states has to say.

        • Powerlurker says:

          $$$ It’s incredibly expensive to live in California.

        • randomneko says:

          I was stationed in Ventura county naval base for awhile. Took a trip to LA and Hollywood. Found the place full of angry drivers and general a-holes. It also felt pretty souless, like the only reason anyone chose to be there was for the cult of personality. On my way home that night needed to use the bathroom. asked a gas station attendant for the key. he tells me to buy something first so I top off my tank, he closes his window and laughs.

          On the other hand northern Cali was quite nice.

        • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

          Cost of living, repressive gun laws, high crime, high taxes, lousy schools.

          Granted, not all parts of the state are as bad as where I lived but then again, I could never afford to live in the nicer parts.

    • Thalia says:

      You might have heard of Silicon Valley? Intel? Apple? AMD? IBM Research? DEC? Even Walmart and Amazon opened their tech centers in California.

    • Jawaka says:

      So where are they moving too? I’m sure there are reasons to move out of every state.

    • areaman says:

      Ya, soooooooooooooooooo many people moved out of California the net population only grew only 10% between 2000 and 2010 census.

      http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/06000.html

  6. George4478 says:

    Boy, make one comment about San Diego Chargers being inefficient and BOOM — new laws.

  7. Lyn Torden says:

    It would be funny if all the manufacturers of chargers withdrew from the California market, and the makers of devices decided to omit chargers from the packaging.

    BTW, over the lifetime of a electric toothbrush (or at least the lifetime they SHOULD have), one could invest $0.40 and come out with much more than $1.19. Where’s the beef??

    Don’t get me wrong. I support energy savings mandates, including this. But I also know it’s a false promotion to claim that the consumer comes out ahead financially for most of these changes where they have to pay up front and “earn” the cost back slowly over time. The real benefit is less tangible to consumers, though.

    • ldillon says:

      The benefits of reduced air pollution, etc, can save consumers and society substantial sums. It’s hard to put a dollar figure on the benefits, but they are real.

  8. RiverStyX says:

    My state is bankrupt, and this – Along with the condom requirement in pornography bill – is what they’re concerned about? No wonder nobody takes california seriously, that Tool song about flushing it all away has never been so easy to relate to.

    • Solkanar512 says:

      Yes, because AIDS is cheap for society to deal with. I mean come on, the state acts like these people have sex it’s their job or something!

    • StarKillerX says:

      This might look bad for California, but compared their fight against happy meal toys and building a school that cost over $680 million this just minor blip on the radar of nuttiness.

  9. SoTEX says:

    current savings in tomorrow’s dollars. more devices, same amount of energy used. what’s so hard to understand?

  10. 180CS says:

    Okay, if they can give statistics on how much this is going to save over the life of the product, then why are they not stating how much more efficient, on average, the requirement will make chargers? Are we talking 70%, 80%, 65% efficient?

    • 180CS says:

      Moreover, I wonder how long it will take apple to realize that the California Energy Commission used an image of the iPhone on their front cover and sue them for it.

      • Thalia says:

        On what basis? The CalEnergyCommission isn’t selling a competing product, using the Apple product to advertise, or likely to confuse the consumers.

        • 180CS says:

          I meant it more as a humorous remark. Sure, they probably aren’t going to care about this, but it did make for a good tongue-in-cheek remark. I mean, we are talking about a company that has been known to sue cafes half way around the world for having a cartoon-ish looking red apple that bears no resemblance to Apple’s apple, as well as apple farmers for, well, daring to use an apple in their logo. And let’s not forget that time they tried to trademark the letter i.

  11. Solkanar512 says:

    I’d just like to remind everyone moaning and complaining that the EU was able to trivially require all smartphone chargers to use a mini-usb plug with minimal muss and fuss. This situation will be no different. Even the iPhone has a mini-usb to iPhone adapter. No one left the EU over this change and everyone ended up saving money over the long haul.

    The greater Seattle are has used similar measures to save on the use of water (our water comes from the snow pack, is variable from year to year and no it doesn’t rain in huge volumes every year). In the past ten years, despite our population growth water usage has remained level. Measures like these work.

    • 180CS says:

      What I don’t understand is why they chose micro USB over mini USB. The port is negligibly larger, but a micro USB port, or charging cable, can stand up to multiple times more force and multiple times more uses over the course of it’s life. Nonetheless, I am glad that they took that step towards the end of proprietary cables that provide no advantage (I.e. anything made by apple)

      • Firethorn says:

        You might be suprised at the durability difference.

        Mini, the larger one, is rated at 5k plug/unplug cycles.
        Micro, the new small standard, is rated at 10k cycles, and is advertised as ‘60% smaller’.

        Micro is actually ‘better’ than mini, as from what I can see, Micro is actually tougher as well. Bigger isn’t necessarily better, or tougher.

  12. Cacao says:

    My Sonicare takes 24 hours to completely recharge and it’s only a toothbrush!!

  13. blinky says:

    Has Myth Busters verified this “OMG chargers waste so much power!” assertion? From simple math it seems to be so much, um, claptrap.

    • ldillon says:

      As a simple test, does your wall-wart feel warm when it’s not in use? If so, it’s wasting power.

    • who? says:

      You can do it yourself. Get a kill-a-watt from amazon, plug the charger in, and check it. There’s a lot of variance in how much power those things use.

      As a gross generalization, the larger ones use more power than the smaller ones. And the warmer they get, the more power they use.

  14. Mr Grey says:

    I read that at a national level – China was forcing a single charging type of connection/charger on cell phones.

    That’s something I think the US should do – unifying cell phone, and laptop charging formats into say 1 level for cell phones, and maybe 3 levels for laptops.

  15. Jeff asks: "WTF could you possibly have been thinking? says:

    I think this could work if they concentrate on making a charger that disconnects the AC side when you disconnect the DC side from the device. Not exactly easy or we would have TV’s and stuff already that shut down completely and not just “stand-by”. Thats where the problem is. The transformer remains connected to the mains, sucking money, even though you removed the device from the charger.

    • gman863 says:

      This already exists on some PC surge protectors and battery backup devices.

      If the device senses power has been shut off on the “main” plug (the PC), it will automatically shut off power to the other outlets (monitor, printer, etc.) until the PC is turned back on.

  16. AllanG54 says:

    There’s probably more power usage from people leaving the chargers plugged in when they’re not actually being used. If people would just unplug there would be quite a bit less power being used, maybe not by one person but in total.

  17. DrPizza says:

    Going by their numbers, a back of the napkin estimate is that between 5 and 6 percent of the average household’s electricity consumption is for chargers? I can see it being that high in some homes, but overall, stacked up against electric hot water heaters, electric ovens, electric stoves, tons of lightbulbs (even if CFLs), televisions, air conditioners, etc., electric heat when it’s cold, etc., 6% just for chargers seems just a little high.

  18. gman863 says:

    Oh, like this will stop the flood of cheap aftermarket power adapters on Amazon and eBay.

    Get real.

  19. The Slime Oozing Out From Your TV Set says:

    Since efficient chargers already exist, those inefficient ones are switching, and it doesn’t cost much more to make them more efficient, likely not more than a dollar for your drill, and I doubt even a dime for your phone, I will, for once, support the state of fruits and nuts.

  20. JonBoy470 says:

    Most manufacturers are already adhering to Energy Star guidelines in this area already. Market pressure to be “green” and whatnot, so this will actually have little impact.

    Broadly speaking, you can infer the efficiency of a power adapter from its size. Smaller is more efficient. Modern wall warts use solid state switching, as opposed to the older (but simpler) linear design. A side effect of switch mode power supply design is that the actual “transformer” traditionally found in a wall wart can be greatly diminished in size, and in some cases completely eliminated. The transformer is, physically, the largest component, and thus the limiting factor as to how small the wall wart can be made.