Purchasing Energy-Efficient Computers

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Leaving power saving mode enabled can reduce computer energy use by up to 27% annually.

The Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) provides acquisition guidance for computers, a product category covered by ENERGY STAR efficiency requirements. Federal laws and requirements mandate that agencies purchase ENERGY STAR-qualified products or FEMP-designated products in all product categories covered by these programs and in any acquisition actions that are not specifically exempted by law.

FEMP's acquisition guidance and associated ENERGY STAR efficiency requirements for computers are technology neutral, meaning that one technology is not favored over another. However, ENERGY STAR's product specification requirements are limited to desktop and integrated desktop computers, workstations, notebook computers, slates/tablets, portable all-in-one computers, thin-client, and small-scale servers (that are marketed for non-data-center use).

All other computer types are excluded, including but not limited to docking stations, game consoles, e-readers, personal digital assistant (PDA) devices, handheld gaming devices, handheld computers with cellular voice capacity, smartphones, small-scale servers (for use in data centers), and mobile and ultra-thin clients.

This acquisition guidance was updated in January 2017.

Find Product Efficiency Requirements

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides computer efficiency levels and product specification information on its ENERGY STAR website. Manufacturers meeting these requirements are allowed to display the ENERGY STAR label on complying models. Get a list of ENERGY STAR-certified computers.

The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 23.7 requires the purchase of EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) registered products. All EPEAT-registered products meet ENERGY STAR requirements, but not all ENERGY STAR-qualified products are EPEAT-registered. Federal buyers should purchase products that are found in both the EPEAT registry and the ENERGY STAR-qualified computers list. In addition to meeting ENERGY STAR requirements, EPEAT registered computers have other environmentally beneficial attributes (e.g., reduction or elimination of hazardous materials and end-of-life management).

Certain computer products must also meet FEMP low standby power requirements. Standby power is the electricity consumed by a product when in the lowest energy consuming mode, which typically occurs when the product is switched off or not performing its primary function. Visit the Low Standby Power Product List to find complying computers.

Make a Cost-Effective Purchase: Save Up to $68 by Buying Energy Star

FEMP has calculated that the required ENERGY STAR-qualified desktop computer saves money if priced no more than $47 above the less efficient model. A high efficiency model, which is an ENERGY STAR-certified model in the 90th percentile of energy use, saves up to $68 or more. Table 1 compares three types of desktop computer purchases and calculates the lifetime cost savings of purchasing efficient models.

FEMP has calculated that the required ENERGY STAR-qualified notebook computer saves money if priced no more than $10 above the less efficient model. A high efficiency model, which is an ENERGY STAR-certified model in the 90th percentile of energy use, saves up to $14 or more. Table 2 compares three types of notebook computer purchases and calculates the lifetime cost savings of purchasing efficient models. Federal purchasers can assume products that meet ENERGY STAR efficiency requirements are life cycle cost-effective.

Table 1. Lifetime Savings for Efficient Desktop Computer Models
PerformanceHigh Efficiency ENERGY STAR (with power management)ENERGY STAR (with power management)Less Efficient (without power management)
Annual Energy Use (kWh)2183221
Annual Energy Cost$2$7$20
Lifetime Energy Cost$7$28$75
Lifetime Cost Savings$68$47======


Table 2. Lifetime Savings for Efficient Notebook Computer Models
PerformanceHigh Efficiency ENERGY STAR (with power management)ENERGY STAR (with power management)Less Efficient (without power management)
Annual Energy Use (kWh)182859
Annual Energy Cost$2$3$5
Lifetime Energy Cost$6$9$20
Lifetime Cost Savings$14$10======
View the Performance and Model Assumptions for Tables 1 and 2
Performance Column

Annual Energy Use: Based on ENERGY STAR values and typical reported values, listed in kilowatt-hours. Typical reported values are from Xergy Consulting's June 2016 report, Determining a Real-World Adjustment Factor for Computer Energy Use: Laboratory Testing the Impact of Real-World Idle, Active Mode and Peripherals (Docket #14-AAER-2).

Annual Energy Cost: Calculated based on an assumed electricity price of $0.09/kWh, which is the average electricity price at federal facilities throughout the United States. Learn more about Federal Government Energy/Water Use and Emissions.

Lifetime Energy Cost: Calculated as the sum of the discounted value of the annual energy cost over the assumed product life of 4 years. Future electricity price trends and a 3% discount rate are from Energy Price Indices and Discount Factors for Life-Cycle Cost Analysis – 2016: Annual Supplement to NIST Handbook 135 and NBS Special Publication 709 (NISTIR 85-3273-31).

Lifetime Cost Savings: The difference between the lifetime energy cost of the less efficient model and the lifetime energy cost of the ENERGY STAR model or best available model.

High-Efficiency Energy Star Model Column

Calculated based on the October 2016 ENERGY STAR-Qualified Products List. More efficient models may be introduced to the market after FEMP's acquisition guidance is posted.

Energy Star Model Column

Calculated based on October 2016 ENERGY STAR efficiency levels. Federal agencies must purchase products that meet or exceed ENERGY STAR efficiency levels.

Less Efficient Model Column

Calculated based on typical products used in non-federal applications.

Determine When ENERGY STAR Products Are Cost-Effective

An efficient product is cost-effective when the lifetime energy savings (from avoided energy costs over the life of the product, discounted to present value) exceed the additional up-front cost (if any) compared to a less efficient option. ENERGY STAR considers up-front costs and lifetime energy savings when setting required efficiency levels. Federal purchasers can assume ENERGY STAR-qualified products and products that meet FEMP-designated efficiency requirements are life cycle cost-effective. In high-use applications or when energy rates are above the federal average, purchasers may save more if they specify products that exceed federal efficiency requirements (e.g., the best available model).

Office Equipment Cost Calculator

Users who wish to determine a product's cost-effectiveness for their application may do so using ENERGY STAR's office equipment cost savings calculator.

Claim an Exception to Federal Purchasing Requirements

Products meeting ENERGY STAR or FEMP-designated efficiency requirements may not be life cycle cost-effective in certain low-use applications or in locations with very low rates for electricity or natural gas. However, for most applications, purchasers will find that energy-efficient products have the lowest life cycle cost.

Agencies may claim an exception to federal purchasing requirements through a written finding that no FEMP-designated or ENERGY STAR-qualified product is available to meet functional requirements, or that no such product is life cycle cost-effective for the specific application. Learn more about federal product purchasing requirements.

Incorporate Federal Acquisition Regulation Language in Contracts

These mandatory requirements apply to all forms of procurement, including construction guide and project specifications; renovation, repair, energy service, and operation and maintenance (O&M) contracts; lease agreements; acquisitions made using purchase cards; and solicitations for offers. Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 23.206 requires agencies to insert the clause at FAR section 52.223-15 into contracts and solicitations that deliver, acquire, furnish, or specify energy-consuming products for use in federal government facilities. To comply with FAR requirements, FEMP recommends that agencies incorporate efficiency requirements into technical specifications, the evaluation criteria of solicitations, and the evaluations of solicitation responses.

Find Federal Supply Sources

The federal supply sources for energy-efficient products are the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). GSA sells products through its Multiple Awards Schedules program and online shopping network, GSA Advantage!. DLA offers products through the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia and online through DOD EMALL. Products sold through DLA are codified with a 13-digit National Stock Number (NSN) and, in some cases, a two-letter Environmental Attribute Code (ENAC). The ENAC identifies items that have positive environmental characteristics and meet standards set by an approved third party, such as FEMP and ENERGY STAR.

The United Nations Standard Products and Services Code (UNSPSC) is a worldwide classification system for e-commerce. It contains more than 50,000 commodities, including many used in the federal sector, each with a unique eight-digit, four-level identification code. Manufacturers and vendors are beginning to adopt the UNSPSC classification convention and electronic procurement systems are beginning to include UNSPSC tracking in their software packages. UNSPSCs can help the federal acquisition community identify product categories covered by sustainable acquisition requirements, track purchases of products within those categories, and report on progress toward meeting sustainable acquisition goals. FEMP has developed a table of ENERGY STAR and FEMP-designated covered product categories and related UNSPSC numbers.

Computer Schedules and Product Codes

GSA offers computers through Schedule 70 (General Purpose Commercial Information Technology Equipment, Software, and Services).

The DLA ENACs for computers are shown in Table 3.

The UNSPSCs for computers are shown in Table 3.

Table 3. Product Codes for Computers
Desktop ComputersLF43211507
Integrated Desktop ComputersG343211500
Thin Clients==43211506
Notebook ComputersHS43211503
Portable All-In-One Computers==43211500
Small Scale Servers==43211501


Buyer Tips: Make Informed Product Purchases

When purchasing computers, start by selecting ENERGY STAR-qualified products and then check Table 4 to see if the EPEAT or Low Standby Power requirements apply to the particular type. Some utilities offer rebates or other incentives for the purchase of ENERGY STAR-qualified products. Use the ENERGY STAR Rebate Finder to see if your local utility offers these incentives.

Table 4. Resources for Finding Compliant Computers
Computer TypeLow Standby Power ListEPEAT RegistryENERGY STAR-Certified Products List
Thin ClientXXX
Desktop XX
Portable All-In-One  X
View the Performance and Model Assumptions for Table 4
Computer Type Column

The ENERGY STAR product category "Computers" includes desktop, integrated, notebook, portable all-in-one, slates/tablets, and workstation computers. It also includes thin clients and small-scale servers. Small-scale servers are not currently included in the Low Standby Power requirement.

Low Standby Power List Column

All products within the Low Standby Power Product List are ENERGY STAR-qualified, if available. FEMP updates the Low Standby Power Product List monthly, using ENERGY STAR-qualified product lists.

EPEAT Registry Column

All EPEAT-registered products meet ENERGY STAR requirements, but not all ENERGY STAR-qualified products are EPEAT-registered. Federal buyers should purchase products that are found in both the EPEAT registry and the ENERGY STAR qualified computers list.

ENERGY STAR Qualified Products List Column

For these categories, FEMP has determined that greater than 80% of ENERGY STAR-qualified products meet or exceed a 1-watt standby power requirement.

Use the link to the EPEAT Registry or Low Standby Power Product List to determine whether a product complies with requirements for federal purchases.

ENERGY STAR-qualified computers are required to have an 80 PLUS Bronze rated internal power supply. Some more powerful computers, such as those used for graphic design or computer-aided drafting, may benefit from a more efficient power supply. When ordering computers for these applications, consider specifying more efficient power supplies like those rated at 80 PLUS Silver, Gold, or Platinum.

Almost all computers and workstations in federal facilities are connected to local area networks using Ethernet technology. Energy-Efficient Ethernet protocols and components are available that can provide additional savings. The switch (or router) and the computer must support this technology to achieve these savings.

Notebooks offer many of the same features as desktop models, plus portability. Because they are designed to operate from a battery power supply, they also tend to be more energy efficient. However, combining a notebook with an external monitor or docking station may increase power use.

User Tips: Use Products More Efficiently

Properly using the built-in power management features in personal computers is one of the most effective ways to save electricity and lower energy costs. Enable computer power management features for the shortest time period and lowest power mode consistent with your needs. Even for computers with a low-power sleep mode, more energy can be saved if the computer is manually shut off completely at night, on weekends and holidays, and during long periods of non-use during the day. This saves energy and will not shorten the life of these products. IT personnel should routinely check computers to make sure power management features have not been disabled.

If your networked computer(s) must remain on in the evening for file backup or other purposes, turn off the monitor. Note that there are numerous free and commercial solutions for managing computer power settings remotely. Look for network features that provide a timed shutdown, automatic shutdown after file backup, or auto-boot-up before backup. Using sleep and off modes will not shorten computer life.

Plug-in power supplies for notebooks typically draw power even when the computer is turned off. To save energy, unplug your power supply after the notebook battery is charged, or use a power strip with an on-off switch.

Many notebooks (and some desktops) offer a hibernate feature, which saves active programs and files before shutting off, then restores the same status when the computer is turned on. This added convenience encourages users to shut off their computers when not in use.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory provided supporting analysis for this acquisition guidance.