California utilities plug energy-efficient electronics

PG&E and Sacramento's public utility to help market energy-efficient TVs and computing gear with retailers to trim fast-growing electricity use from consumer electronics.

Californians' love for electronic gear takes a heavy toll on electricity bills, sucking up 20 percent of total power consumption.

Utilities Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) on Thursday announced a program to steer consumers toward more energy-efficient electronics.

Called the Business and Consumer Alliance, the program will identify which TVs, desktop computers, and monitors are the most energy efficient based on industry standards, such as EnergyStar.

Merchandise in stores will be labeled with either a "Save" or a "Save More" label to highlight energy-efficient equipment, said a representative from PG&E, which is dedicating $7 million this year to the program.

Best Buy, Sears Holding Company, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, Dell, and Lenovo are participating in the program which the utilities estimate will save 380 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity through 2011. That's enough to power more than 55,000 typical homes.

The hope is to drive demand for efficient consumer electronics at the retail level, which could prompt manufacturers to invest in energy-efficient improvements.

PG&E anticipates that the program will have more money dedicated to it in the coming years and cover more categories of products.

Right now, the biggest energy consumers are flat-screen TVs and small-office equipment. But set-top boxes and electronics chargers are quickly becoming bigger factors in residential electricity use, the PG&E representative said.

Energy consumption from consumer electronics is expected to grow at close to 11 percent annually from 2005 to 2010.