Computers, servers, monitors and imaging equipment are a cornerstone of the rapidly expanding IT sector. The resulting growth in electricity consumption and mountains of electronic waste can and should be tackled at design stage.
The stock of personal computers and servers in Europe is expected to double by 2020, with increasingly powerful and energy-intensive products reaching the market.
The computer product group are a cornerstone of the rapidly expanding IT sector. It includes non-mobile (e.g. desktop) and mobile devices (e.g. notebooks, tablets, small-scale servers).
The estimated annual EU sales for the products in this group is 97 million units by 2030. The total computer stock estimated at 535 million in 2015 will increase to 671 million by 2030. The resulting electricity consumption and mountains of electronic waste can and must be tackled at their design stage.
The most critical components of these products are generally screens and batteries, whose durability limit the lifetime of the devices. The average lifetime of computers and similar products is roughly 5-7 years! Their recyclability when they reach their end-of-life stage is also compromised.
Special attention should be paid to the high content levels of critical raw materials (CRM in these products. Solutions must be found to increase the efficient use of these resources, including material savings and recovery at the end-of-life of products. The recyclability of computers is generally very low due to the large variety of plastics and flame retardants combined in the same product. This should be tackled at the design stage. The trend towards smaller and/or thinner mobile computers has resulted in products being more difficult to dismantle and repair and often prevents consumers from replacing their batteries.
Furthermore, there is still a significant amount of improvement potential for the energy efficiency of computers and the internal power supply units which go above the requirements laid in the current regulation.
Finally, a specific energy labelling scheme is missing for computers while the only measure in place in this field is the US EnergyStar.
The sector is expected to consume at least 20 additional TWh of yearly electricity in the EU from 2020, as much as the residential consumption of Belgium. And toxic electronic waste is still flooding into landfills, with associated pollution concerns.
What is the European Union doing?
Due to the rapidly changing nature of the sector, the revision of the Ecodesign regulation had to take place no later than three and a half years after its entry into force in 2013, a period much shorter than for other products. After the entry into force of the EU Computer Regulation 617/2013 the market progressively shifted away from desktop devices to mobile devices such as notebook computers, tablets and slates. As a result, the Preparatory Study proposed that computers in scope of the review are categorised in two main product groups: ‘mobile’ and ‘non-mobile’ computers. It is thought that this will improve the clarity and longevity of the Regulation. However, the revision process is still ongoing.
To complement the energy efficiency related aspects, the Commission has also developed an ambitious assessment of the material efficiency aspects and options namely, durability, reparability and recyclability which will be all discussed in early 2018. The Ecodesign measures in place are expected to lead to up to 16 TWh of savings by 2020, equivalent to European citizens saving up to €2.6 billion on their bills.
What does the coolproducts campaign want?
Set bolder energy efficiency requirements, following the steps taken by California in 2016
Test the performance of computers on the active mode (not ‘off’, ‘sleep’ and ‘idle’ modes as it is currently)
Set an Energy Label on computers
Implement ambitious resource efficiency requirements, including (but not only) those proposed for displays and enterprise servers that look at easy access to key components (such as the battery), identification of hazardous substances, data deletion tools etc.
Investigate durability requirements, notably on the battery performance and the resistance to drop, liquid spill, etc.
Coolproducts technical input and position papers: