PlayStation 5’s energy-saving feature sounds great, but there are big questions

Image: SASCHA STEINBACH/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Just in time for the U.N. Climate Summit, Sony has some PlayStation news for the planet Earth: The PS5’s energy efficiency will see some exponential improvements.

In a Monday post on the PlayStation Blog, Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan starts by running through improvements made over time with the PS4’s power consumption. He then reveals how those efforts will be taken further with the technically announced PS5.

An improved standby feature (which lets players step away from the console mid-game and come back later) on the console will draw just 0.5 W of juice. That’s a big drop down from the PS4’s standby feature. According to a 2014 report from the National Resources Defense Council, a PS4 in standby mode has a power draw of around 8 W. That number rises a bit if you’re charging controllers as well.

Ryan doesn’t go any further than that, unfortunately. Without knowing what an active PS5’s power draw will be, there’s no way to tell if the next PlayStation will offer a net improvement. For context, an active PS4 ranges between 90 W and more than 130 W depending on how it’s being used.

The post also seems to suggest that the PS5’s improved standby feature will be optional. “If just one million users enable this feature, it would save equivalent to the average electricity use of 1,000 U.S. homes,” Ryan write. It’s not clear why such a seemingly beneficial feature would be optional at all, and a Sony spokesperson didn’t respond to our request for more info.

I don’t want to knock the work that Sony’s doing. The fact that Ryan put this message out there, and appeared at the U.N. Climate Summit to support an absolutely worthwhile Playing for the Planet initiative, is a positive thing.

More than that, the results tell the whole story. With the PS4, improvements to the console’s energy use over time have been dramatic. As Ryan notes, “we estimate the carbon emissions we have avoided to date already amount to almost 16 million metric tons, increasing to 29 million metric tons over the course of the next 10 years (which equals the CO2 emissions for the nation of Denmark in 2017).”

It also seems like there’s a genuine desire to do the right thing. This is a public company, so there’s every reason to believe profits are the primary motivator. But perhaps the realization is dawning at Sony that global energy shortages or an actual climate change-induced apocalypse would hurt the bottom line more than anything.

More from Ryan: “Our commitments are not only related to hardware and operations, we are also keen to help inform people interested in sustainability goals. We have committed to working with the industry and climate experts to develop reference information for use by game developers that wish to include sustainability themes in games. In addition, we will investigate potential PS VR applications that can raise awareness of climate issues and climate experts.”

All of this is good, if rather vague. That’s the only problem. It’s important for industry leaders like Ryan to put messages like this out into the world, but it’s equally important for all of us reading at home to look between the lines for unanswered questions, and then hold the speakers accountable.

We might not get an answer anytime soon. Console reveals are big business and Sony is likely reticent to share any information at all that hasn’t been heavily vetted and carefully forged into exactly the right message. But that shouldn’t stop us, or you, from asking – and continuing to ask until the answers come.

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Author:Adam Rosenberg

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