Choosing a Low-Energy Sustainable Router

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Many of the appliances, devices, and gadgets in our home drain energy when they are in use. For example, the fridge cycles on and off, and laptops only use power when charging the battery. The router you use to connect to the internet and read this article is an energy vampire you can tame. But router manufacturers are not helping consumers make the best choices because they do not share enough information.

Most internet routers are plugged in and sucking juice all the time. Almost everyone leaves the router plugged in continuously because it is great to be able to jump on the internet whenever we want without switching the router on and off.

Missing Data


Although there is a tremendous opportunity to reduce national household electrical use with energy-efficient routers, few products on the market tout these qualities or other sustainability features. This makes it challenging to make greener product choices, even though some standards do exist.

Either products aren’t clearly labeled, or few energy-efficient and sustainable models are actually being produced. This guide to sustainable routers will be updated periodically, hopefully adding more energy-efficient models made with a green manufacturing process in the near future.

Internet Router Energy Efficiency

How Much Power Does My Router Consume?

The good news is that routers use relatively little power to operate. Most models use between 2 and 20 watts of power. This is roughly similar to leaving one CFL bulb turned on all the time. Use this calculator to understand how your router uses energy.

Power consumption does, however, vary by the model. For example, units with multiple Wi-Fi antennas tend to use more electricity. Consumption can also vary by settings, so refer to the manual to determine the most efficient settings available.


The exact cost of running the Wi-Fi router depends on the power consumption of the unit and the cost of your electricity. In most areas, it comes to less than $1 per month. Although this doesn’t sound like a huge amount of power, consider that millions of these devices are running in households throughout the country. Collectively, this power really adds up.

Manufacturers can make a real difference by offering energy-saving routers.

Should I Turn My Router Off?

This question depends on how you use the internet in your home. If you tend to go online only once or twice a day, then this is a good option. Most of us do use the internet far more frequently though, and it is cumbersome to turn it on and off, especially when multiple people use the router.

If there are specific times of day when the Wi-Fi is not used, such as at night, you can put your router on a timer. This can also help reduce radiation from the device while you sleep. When it restarts, the router will use its configuration file to reconnect and provide your computers, TVs, and devices normal access to the internet. Turning off a router needn’t be a hassle.


Another reason to consider switching off the cable router provided by a carrier is their use of the system when it is idle. For example, some internet service providers use customers’ routers to provide local access, which is a security problem and a power drain for which you, not the carrier, pays.

Do Energy-Efficiency Standards Exist for Routers?

There are a couple of router features that help save energy. Lower-power mode allows devices to go into a sleep or standby mode when not in use. Energy-efficient ethernet (EEE) is an IEE standard that scales down power consumption depending on use. When enabled, this feature can reduce power consumption by 50 percent or more during periods of inactivity.

The downside is that such devices are difficult to find even after exhaustive searches on the internet. Increasing the distribution and marketing of energy-efficient routers would empower consumers to choose high-efficiency alternatives. Look for “EEE enabled” or “802.3az” on the package. This signifies that the product meets certain efficiency criteria.

Currently, only a few U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EnergyStar-certified routers are on the market; these devices use between 5 and 13 watts of power.


When shopping for small network equipment, look for the EnergyStar logo, which means that the model uses 20 percent less power than a conventional unit. EnergyStar does not require certified devices to meet the EEE standard, however. Ideally, look for models that are both EEE enabled and EnergyStar certified when possible. Unfortunately, there do not seem to be any such models on the market currently.

Our must sustainable choice at this writing is TRENDnet TEW-651BR, an inexpensive router that uses only 2 watts of power.

Routers Rating Criteria

There is certainly more for a sustainable routers guide to consider than just energy consumption. Unfortunately, little information is available to determine which technology manufacturers are using the greenest practices. In particular, it is important for manufacturers to eliminate hazardous chemicals from products and manufacturing, utilize recycled materials, and use energy-efficient manufacturing techniques. As more manufacturers disclose this information, we will update this guide. 

Power Consumption

Some products provide wattage information. The lower the wattage, the less power the equipment will consume. Keep in mind that the typical range is between 2 and 20; look for devices that consume power on the lower end of that range.

Recyclability


Although many governments or consumers end up taking the brunt of the responsibility for waste management and recycling, this is an important consideration for manufacturers.

In the United States, less responsibility is put on manufacturers to design products for recyclability, but this is an important consideration in completing the loop. Take-back programs where components can be remanufactured are ideal. But designing a product for it to be easily recycled is also a huge step in the right direction.

Green Standards

Minimal sustainability information is available. However, according to the manufacturers, the routers we list in the comparison chart below meet at least one of the following standards.

Products Selected

Although it is difficult to obtain information on router power use, all of the routers in the comparison chart use less power than other similar models and adhere to the European Union WEEE directives. These directives have gradually gone into effect, starting in 2003, and have helped shape the global market to encourage better management of electronics for environmental and human health.


These initiatives help remove some of the most concerning hazardous materials from electronics and have helped shape state laws in the United States for safer electronics. Until the United States has comprehensive national laws, the WEEE directives are instrumental in shaping the U.S. market for greener electronics.

Comparison Chart

To view the printable comparison chart, click the image below.

Earth911 routers comparison chart

 

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Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is a renewable energy and sustainability journalist and communications professional with an MBA in sustainable management. She is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Earth911, Home Power, Triple Pundit, CleanTechnica, The Ecologist, GreenBiz, Renewable Energy World and Windpower Engineering. Lozanova also works with several corporate clients as a public relations writer to gain visibility for renewable energy and sustainability achievements.
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