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Google issues power supply challenge

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KAI RYSSDAL: Think for a minute about all the personal computers in the world. And then think about all the electricity they use. There’s a high-tech conference up in San Francisco today. And the world’s biggest internet search company wants computer makers to stop wasting power. Perhaps as much as billions of kilowatt hours. Google says the industry has to get with the 21st century…and come up with a more efficient standard power supply for the PC. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sarah Gardner reports.

SARAH GARDNER: Google says the average computer wastes up to 40 percent of the power it consumes. The culprit? The power supplya€¦that mechanism inside your computer that converts electrical current from your wall outlet into usable energy for your PC. The standard for that power supply dates back to the early 1980’s. In the high-tech world, one could argue, that’s practically medieval. Google designer Luis Barroso:

LUIS BARROSO:“The idea is that we could simplify the power supply to a point where it would be relatively cheap to have power supplies with a much higher efficiency.”

Google is pushing for a single, 12-volt standard power supply instead of the old model built on providing multiple voltage levels. Barroso says modern PC’s don’t need that complexity anymore. But Google’s not the only one working on this problem. In a separate program the utility industry is offering computer makers financial incentives aimed at subsidizing greener PC’s. Consultant Chris Calwell works with the industry:

CHRIS CALWELL:“They put money behind the program offering to pay rebates of 5 to 10 dollars for every qualifying computer.. So the customer can buy the computer at virtually the same price they would have before but they get the roughly 15 percent energy savings.”

Meanwhile, Google’s Luis Barroso says he hopes his speech today will inspire the industry to coordinate efforts. Google believes if the industry adopted its proposal, the potential savings could be 40 billion kilowatt-hours over three years — or about $5 billion.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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