News & Insights  |  Newsletters

DOE Extends Comment Period on Potential Efficiency Rules for Computer and Battery Backup Systems

August 2014

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has extended until October 2, 2014, the period to comment on potential energy efficiency regulation for computers, computer servers, and related battery  backup, such as uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs).  This provides a further opportunity for industry to have input into this far-ranging proceeding.

DOE's new approach is to consider creating a composite “covered” consumer product that the agency calls “computer and battery backup systems” (computer systems).  On July 17, 2014, DOE issued a notice on computer systems.  79 Fed. Reg. 41656.  This announced a public meeting to be held on July 31, 2014, and opportunity to submit written comments by September 2, 2014.  On August 5, 2014, DOE issued a notice extending the comment period to October 2, 2014.  79 Fed. Reg. 45377.  DOE did so in response to an industry request for more time to ensure that key industry representatives have adequate time to review and provide comments on the framework document.

DOE's Initial Proposal.  DOE's initial iteration was issuance of proposed determinations on July 13, 2013, that computers and computer servers are separate covered consumer products. 78 Fed. Reg. 41873 (computers); id. 41868 (computer servers).

DOE's New Proposal.  After considering public comments on the July 13, 2013 proposals, DOE is taking a different tack.

On February 28, 2014, DOE published a notice of proposed determination that “computer and battery backup systems,” which it also calls “computers systems,” qualify as a covered consumer product.  79 Fed. Reg. 11345.  This would combine computers, computer servers, and related battery backup.  (In a separate notice on the same day, DOE withdrew its July 12, 2013 proposed determination that computer servers are a covered product Id. 11350.)  DOE said that it currently believes that computers and servers share numerous technical and physical characteristics that would make it more appropriate to cover them together as a single covered product. 

The July 17, 2014 notice moved the ball forward in the rulemaking.  It announced the availability of a Framework Document, which details the analytical approach and scope for the rulemaking, and identifies a host of issues (more than 50) on which DOE is particularly interested in receiving comments.  These were considered at the July 31, 2014 public meeting and are to be considered in response to written comments that are due by October 2, 2014.  The proceeding can lead to proposed DOE test procedures and efficiency standards.  

  • Scope of Coverage.  At the top of the list of issues in the new proceeding are questions about the scope of coverage This involves the definitions ofcomputer system,” “computer,” computer server,” andUPS.”  Industry needs to focus on scope in order to assure that the lines are properly drawn and that products are not inappropriately swept into coverage.
    • Computer Systems.  DOE's proposed definition of “computer systems” is:  “A consumer product whose primary function is to perform logical operations and process data, or equipment whose primary function is to maintain continuity of load power for such products in case of input power failure.”  79 Fed. Reg. at 11346.  DOE states in the Framework Document (at 14) that it intends to narrow the scope of the rulemaking.  DOE would consider consumer products such as computers, computer servers, and UPSs to be within the scope of coverage of computer systems.  Id.  Hence, the definitions of these products are critical to the scope of the rulemaking.
    • Computers.  In that regard, DOE puts forth a definition of “computer” generally based on an Energy Star specification for computers, and requests suggestions of characteristics that may be used in the definition of “computer” to distinguish general consumer electronics from computers.  Id. at 15.  At the July 31, 2014 public meeting, DOE indicated that the definition of “computer” under consideration “excludes products that may perform similar operations but have different primary functions, including but not limited to:  playing video games, displaying television signals, making telephone calls, taking pictures, or outputting audio signals.”  DOE Public Meeting Presentation at 19 (July 31, 2014).

      DOE also requests comment on any additional computer products definitions that should be included.  Framework Document at 18.  DOE wants comment on the need for a tablet computer definition and the criteria used to distinguish tablet computers from other computers.  Id.  It also requests comment on the types of computers that should be excluded from the scope.  Id. at 19.
    • Computer Servers.  Similarly, DOE puts forth a definition of “computer server” generally based on an Energy Star specification for computer servers, and requests feedback and information on additional factors and criteria that could be used to distinguish clearly between computer servers and client computers, other than those based on point-of-sale or end-use.  Id. at 16.  DOE requests comment on additional methods (besides ability to operate on a residential circuit) to identify computer servers that are consumer products.  Id. at 21.
    • UPSs.  DOE is also considering a definition for UPSs based on an International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standard and an Energy Star specification for UPSs.  Id.  DOE requests feedback on the proposed scope for UPSs.  In particular, whether or not industry believes a particular UPS type should be included within the scope and whether capacity is a proper differentiator between consumer and commercial UPSs and what constitutes a proper cut-off capacity.  Id. at 22-23.
  • Test Procedure.  DOE requests comments on a number of issues relating to development of test procedures applicable to “computer systems.”

    This includes comments on the use of IEC and Energy Star criteria for the computers values for integrated desktops and notebooks, Energy Star mode weightings, annual energy consumption weightings, and level of proxy functionality, and network proxying.  Id. at 25-27.

    It also includes comments on the use of the Energy Star idle state test for computer servers as a base for the development of the computer servers test method.  Id. at 30.  And, adoption of an IEC standard as a basis for the development of the UPS test method, while considering additional guidance provided by Energy Star Id. at 31.
  • Product Classes.  DOE requests comment on the proposed approach for determining computer systems product classes.  DOE welcomes comments on any design characteristics that should be considered when establishing product classes, including comments on Energy Star categorization criteria for computer product categories.  Id. at 32-37.  DOE requests comment on possible strategies for computer server product classes.

    DOE requests comment on possible advantages and shortcomings of using the Energy Star computer servers and UPS classification criteria for the purpose of this rulemaking.  Id. at 38-40.
  • Standards.  DOE also seeks input on a large variety of factors bearing on the technological feasibility and economic practicability of standards for computer systems.  These include market assessment; technology options; energy consumption; current and forecasted energy prices; maintenance, repair, and installation costs; product lifetimes; discount rates; efficiency data; shipments data and reports on future market trends; potential impact of new energy conservation standards on computer system shipments; current market-pull programs that promote the adoption of more efficient computer systems; consumer subgroups; other existing regulations or pending regulations that DOE should consider in examining cumulative regulatory burden; emissions analysis; utility impact analysis; and national employment impacts.  Id. at 40-72.