America's Unused Game Consoles Eat Up as Much Power as All of Houston

The latest consoles are delivering higher graphics with less power, but they just don't stand-by like they used to.

May 16 2014, 6:04pm
Image: Mike Hawkins/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons

What's staggering about the amount of electricity consumed by this latest generation of video game consoles isn't how much they use when they're being played—it's when they're not being played.

America's PS4s, Xbox Ones, and Nintendo Wii Us are “on track to consume as much electricity each year as all the homes in Houston ... and cost consumers more than $1 billion to operate annually,” according to a new study by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The report found that most of the energy isn't going into gaming; most of it will be consumed when the consoles are just sitting in standby mode but still waiting for voice to wake it up.

In a way that's totally intuitive, since most of the console's life is actually going to be spent off. But it also reflects how this generation of consoles is doing more, when it isn't doing anything at all, especially as compared to their predecessors. The Xbox One and PS4 consume two to three times more annual energy than the latest models of their predecessors, the Xbox 360 and PS3, much of it while in stand-by mode, especially for the Xbox.

While the PS4 draws the most power while you're playing, a new feature on the Xbox makes it the most power hungry while standing-by.

“The console continuously draws more than 15 watts while waiting for the user to say 'Xbox on,'” the report states, “even in the middle of the night or during the workday when no one is home. If left unchanged, this one feature will be responsible for $400 million in annual electricity bills and the equivalent annual electricity output of a large, 750-megawatt power plant.”

Image: NRDC

The exception to the rule is actually the Wii U, which not only consumes less electricity than its contemporaries, it also is more efficient than the Wii. Nintendo's getting so weird, man.

The report doesn't culminate in any sloganeering or calls to action for gamers (my suggestion, though, “Don't maul the Earth; de-wall while you're at work!”), but instead has advice for console makers, basically telling them to get their shit together and figure out how to let the consoles stream video more efficiently, as well as wait for the call of their masters' voices more efficiently. The Amazon Fire TV, for instance, only uses 80 percent less power than the Xbox.

NRDC projects that its recommendations could take a San Jose-sized chunk out of Americans' electricity bills, which would be nice. The growing digital economy is “a massive escalating energy suck,” so if we could cut at least some of the sucking from our leisure time, it'd do the overstressed grid, and your wallet, a big favor.

Improvements in semiconductors promise to slow down the rate of consumption while you're playing—you don't want feature creeping to cancel that out when you're not.