Surprisingly, the California Energy Commission (CEC) recently decided to seize regulatory authority over power consumption and energy efficiency of consumer electronics (CE) devices. But what if the CEC’s goals – greater energy efficiency, lower energy bills – were undermined by something as simple and avoidable as the use of old or flawed data? That’s the question policy makers now confront, as the CEC launches a new round of writing regulations for a wide swath of products including computers, monitors, displays, gaming consoles and networking devices.

The CEC’s purpose for regulating these devices is twofold: California consumers should save money on their utility bills, and the reduced need for electricity would provide a significant contribution to the reduction in climate-affecting greenhouse gasses (GHGs).

To achieve these goals, however, the Commission must start with accurate and recent data on the baseline power consumption of devices. After all, if the CEC doesn’t know the starting point, how can the commission tell consumers how much they might save on their electricity bills or what contributions to GHG reduction we’re achieving? This is especially important for the fast-moving world of innovative CE devices that often have product cycles measured in months, not years. Quite literally, the device you buy today may be completely different from the device available in the same product category a year ago.

Think about it this way – if you’re trying to reduce the average power in a device to five watts, it makes a significant difference in determining how much electricity you can save if the starting point is a baseline of 10 watts or six watts. If the former, you’d achieve a 50 percent savings in electricity and GHG emissions. If the latter, the reduction is only 17 percent. Factor in the regulations that often come with some cost to consumers –making your device more expensive, slightly less innovative or with fewer features – it becomes that much more important that the savings are real.

Unfortunately, the CEC’s track record in using recent data in rulemakings impacting electronics is poor. This brings into question whether Californians derive any real or significant benefit from past regulations. For example, a third-party study of CEC regulations on DVD players in 2006 found the commission used data from as far back as 1999, just before mainstream adoption of DVD players by consumers. The 2006 regulations assumed average power consumption of 4.2 watts by a DVD player, even though almost all DVD players sold in 2006 had become ENERGY STAR-compliant, with an average power draw of just 1 watt. (ENERGY STAR is a government-industry partnership to make appliances and devices more energy efficient, and it’s overseen by the US Department of Energy and US Environmental Protection Agency.)

In practice, this meant that a long, complicated regulation-writing session by the CEC on DVD players – one that cost taxpayers millions, relied on artificial limits that could impact innovation, imposed compliance costs on businesses and ultimately consumers, and achieved no provable energy efficiency savings and no reduction in Green House Gasses. Similar third party reviews of CEC regulations on televisions and compact audio device showed similar reliance on old data.

Shouldn’t California, which has always been at the forefront of both technical innovation and environmental leadership, demand better? We think so.

This is why the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is supporting California Assembly Member Steven Bradford’s (D-Gardena) energy efficiency legislation. Assembly Bill 2581 would permit the CEC to more easily eliminate outdated regulations and realize the savings from private sector initiatives to voluntarily reduce devices’ power demands. But the bill’s most important provision would require the CEC to use the most recent data available when writing new regulations and, when feasible, data that is less than one-year-old. By requiring this standard, California consumers would enjoy greater certainty that claims of reductions in power consumption by their devices would have actual, not illusory, contributions to utility savings and GHG reductions.

Our industry will do its part, as we always have, by providing data to inform the CEC and other policymakers about the latest energy use and efficiency trends in consumer electronics. The CEC must do its part by utilizing good and current data. It’s time to bring the Energy Commission into the 21st Century by passing AB 2581.