Our addiction to electronic devices is driving up demand for electricity worldwide as modems, printers, set-top boxes and game consoles turn out to be energy hogs, according to the International Energy Agency.

The IEA, which monitors the demand and supply of energy worldwide, is calling for better standards on how much energy devices can use when they are on standby.

The problem is the way electronic devices maintain their network connection while on standby, as most of them draw as much power in standby mode as they do when activated, according to an IEA report released Wednesday.

In 2013, networked devices consumed around 616 terawatt hours of electricity, about three times the capacity of Quebec’s entire generating network. Much of that total — about 400 terawatt hours — was consumed in standby mode, the report found.

Wasted energy

“Consumers are losing money in the form of wasted energy, which is leading to more costly power stations and more distribution infrastructure being built than we would otherwise need — not to mention all the extra greenhouse gases that are being emitted,” IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven said in a press statement.

“But it need not be this way. If we adopt best available technologies we can minimize the cost of meeting demand as the use and benefits of connected devices grows.”

Laptops, tablets, modems and game consoles use more power than they need to remain connected to internet networks, the report found. Consumers who own these devices often only use them for a short time every day, but they continue to use power so they can boot up an internet connection in a few seconds.

“Just by using today’s best available technology, such devices could perform exactly the same tasks in standby while consuming around 65 per cent less power,” van der Hoeven said.

Call for better industry standards

Consumer demand for electronic devices is increasing, meaning more demand for electrical generation unless manufacturers can make them more efficient. The IEA estimates the demand by 2025 could be 1,140 terawatt hours.

It recommends policy makers set new standards for power use for electronics, internet service providers introduce incentives for low-power devices and hardware makers turn their research dollars to the issue.

The U.S. Energy Star system, a tool for consumers to choose energy efficient devices, addresses the issue of network standby power use only indirectly the report said. It is a guide to the most energy efficient devices on the market, but it does not set any power limit for how a device behaves in standby mode.

A number of international organizations are working toward improving energy efficiency, among them the GreenTech Consortium, the International Engineering Task Force and Green Grid, which works to reduce power use by data centres.

Asked for a response to the report, Apple says it is designing its products to exceed Energy Star specifications for energy use. It has made energy efficiency a selling point on many of its electronic devices.