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US environmental organisation warns against Xbox Series X, PS5 energy consumption

The NRDC calls for platform holders to ship their consoles with energy saving options enabled by default

The PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X each draw 160 to 200+ watts of electricity when used, which is higher than their predecessors and more power than a 60-inch TV.

That's according to the US' Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental nonprofit organisation that measured the energy consumed by next-gen consoles and today published a lengthy report on the topic.

The report recognised the platform holders efforts to reduce power consumption when the consoles are in rest mode, only drawing one watt or lower when that's the case, but also highlighted the impact of features such as Xbox's Instant-on mode, which is enabled by default when the console ships.

"Based on modeling NRDC performed through 2025, this one seemingly inconsequential decision by Microsoft could result in the equivalent of one large (500 MW) coal-burning power plant's worth of annual electricity generation and cost new US Xbox owners roughly $500 million on their electricity bills," wrote senior scientist at the NRDC Noah Horowitz.

"Given that there is very minimal user benefit from Instant-on, it's surprising that Microsoft -- which publicly announced that 'by 2030 Microsoft will be carbon negative... and launch an initiative around the world to help their suppliers and customers reduce their carbon footprints' -- does not ship its consoles with the energy savings option enabled by default (and perhaps remove the 'instant on' choice during the initial set-up). Such a change could happen almost overnight with just a few lines of new code."

The NRDC estimated that roughly two-thirds of users kept the default Instant-on mode enabled on their Xbox, and are "poised to waste almost four billion kilowatt hours of electricity in the US alone through the end of 2025 when in standby mode and not being used." That's approximately three million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, Horowitz added.

The organisation clarified that the power consumption of the latest consoles was particularly high when playing next-gen games, but "significantly lower when playing games designed for older consoles and are backward compatible." The Xbox Series S was also highlighted as a positive, as it drew lower power levels while playing a game than the other three next-gen consoles.

The report pointed out the high power consumption of streaming TV shows or films on the consoles, particularly when switching from playing a game to streaming a show.

"This may save a few seconds, but the console will draw between 30 and 70 watts -- about 10 to 25 times more power than a streaming device like Apple TV, Roku box, or Amazon Fire Stick to watch the same show. We have repeatedly urged Sony and Microsoft to include a dedicated low-power chip for video playback in their consoles, and this request is even more important today given the potential for long hours of 'binge watching' via the console."

Concluding its report, the NRDC called for Sony and Microsoft to conduct studies on how players use energy saving options on their consoles and "generate a public-facing report on national game console energy use, which hopefully will drive future energy reductions and carbon savings."

The report added: "Such a study should also take into account the energy and related carbon emissions caused by the increasingly popular cloud-based gaming, where much of the computing is happening off-site in energy intensive data centers."

Last year, talked to activists and experts about how game makers can rise to meet the challenge of climate change.

For the record, this article previously quoted NRDC Noah Horowitz as saying the Xbox could cost US owners $1 billion in electricity wastage. The NRDC reached out to explain this was a mistake, and the actual estimate is $500 million.

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Marie Dealessandri avatar

Marie Dealessandri

Deputy Editor

Marie Dealessandri joined in 2019 to head its Academy section. A journalist since 2012, she started in games in 2016. She can be found (rarely) tweeting @mariedeal, usually on a loop about Baldur’s Gate and the Dead Cells soundtrack. GI resident Moomins expert.