Tablets to get Energy Star ratings

Energy Star ratings could lead to more power-efficient tablets

Tablets will be rated based on the Energy Star specification in the future.

The specification will be part of the Energy Star version 6.1, according to documents posted on the U.S. Energy Star website. But a date for ratings on tablets has not yet been established, said Robert Meyers, product manager at Energy Star computers. Energy Star is a joint effort between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Energy Star specification helps shoppers identify the most power-efficient products when making purchases. The Energy Star program already covers laptops, desktops, monitors, light bulbs, servers, household appliances and other products that are identified with a label. The use of Energy Star-labeled products helped cut close to US$18 billion from U.S. utility bills in 2010, according to the organization.

The EPA and DOE originally floated the idea of including tablets as part of Energy Star version 6.0 for products like laptops, desktops, displays, thin clients and networking equipment, which goes into effect on June 1. Some IT vendors that participate in the Energy Star program argued against the immediate inclusion of tablets, saying that those devices are more like smartphones than PCs and have different assembly and equipment. They argued that tablets and laptops differ on components such as batteries and networking equipment, and thus cannot be grouped together with PCs. The EPA and those stakeholders are now trying to gather a consensus on the definition of tablets and how to rate the devices.

"Defining and differentiating tablets will be part of the process, but at this point we don't have anything concrete," Meyers said.

The Energy Star standard for tablets would lead to the advantage of a decrease in energy use over the life of a device, said Casey Harrell, IT analyst at Greenpeace International.

"It won't remove hazardous materials from a product ... but indirectly will impact toxic pollution. More energy efficient devices use less energy and less pollution from those energy sources," Harrell said.

Energy Star should be more ambitious, but at a ground level, the standard sets the ball rolling in the right direction around energy savings in tablets, Harrell said.

"Creating a product-specific standard, like [for] tablets, allows for the standard to be built more uniquely for these specific products and gives the products an opportunity to compete in an apples-to-apples environment," Harrell said. "For a long time, many devices -- netbooks, even game consoles -- were looped into the same PC standard."

Energy Star is a key metric in the EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) rating, which is used by many government organizations and universities to make hardware purchases. EPEAT also takes into account toxic elements, material selection, product longevity and other energy efficiency attributes to rate environmentally friendly hardware.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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