A Plug-Loads Game Changer: Computer Gaming Energy Efficiency without Performance Compromise

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Two-thirds of Americans play computer games. Although among the most complex and energyintensive plug loads, gaming has been largely overlooked in energy research and development and policy. Systems used for computer gaming in California consumed 4.1 terawatt-hours/year in 2016 or $700 million in energy bills, with emissions of 1.5 million tons carbon dioxideequivalent allocated 66 percent to consoles, 31 percent to desktop personal computers, 3 percent to laptops, and less than 1 percent to emerging media streaming devices. Key findings include:

• Aggregate energy demand places gaming among the top plug loads in California, with gaming representing one-fifth of the state’s total miscellaneous residential energy use.

• Market structure changes could substantially affect statewide energy use; energy demand could rise by 114 percent by 2021 under intensified desktop gaming, or fall by 24 percent given a major shift towards consoles coupled with energy efficiency gains.

• Unit energy consumption is remarkably varied across gaming platform types: across 26 systems tested, client-side electricity use ranged from 5 to more than 1,200 kWh per year, reflecting equipment choice and usage patterns.

• Some emerging technologies and activities are driving energy demand higher, including processor overclocking, cloud-based gaming, higher-resolution connected displays, and virtual reality gaming.

• User behavior influences gaming energy use more than technology choice; duty cycle and game choice are particularly strong drivers of demand.

• Energy efficiency opportunities are substantial, about 50 percent on a per-system basis for personal computers and 40 percent for consoles if past rates of improvement continue.

While simultaneously quantifying efficiency and gaming performance is problematic, evidence suggests that efficiency can be improved while maintaining or improving user experience. Familiar energy policy strategies can help manage gaming energy demand, although mandatory system-level standards are not promising (component-level measures may be).

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