Xbox One and PS4 Consoles in the Woods -08

Keeping your Xbox One and PlayStation 4 systems ready to boot into a game at a moments notice requires them to be powered on in some way at all times. That, it turns out, is costing plenty of money and sucking up tons of power.

The environmental group known as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) took Microsoft to task close to the release of the system and is doing so again this year. According to the council, keeping however many of the 10-million plus Xbox One systems that use Instant On mode ready to go cost consumers as much as $250 million last year while using enough power to – with some help from the PlayStation 4 and Wii U – light up Houston for a year. For reference, punching some numbers into na electricity bill calculator shows that a 12.5 watt device (The Xbox One in Instant-On mode) running 24 hours a day costs about $15 per year depending on the cost of energy where you live.

The NRDC acknowledges that both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 have seen improvements over the last year. Microsoft got the Xbox One's power consumption during standby down to 12.5 watts from 18 watts, and Sony lets users customize how long the PlayStation 4 USB ports receive power for so that they don't keep sucking power down even after controllers are all charged up.

Where the Xbox One stands out as a problem, though, is that not only does its standby mode account for about 40 percent of the system's overall power consumption, it's turned on by default in the United States, the system's biggest market. In Europe, by comparison, that feature is required to be turned off by default. The NRDC wants Microsoft to start disabling that feature by default in newly manufactured systems so that only users who are actively interested in the feature will turn it on. The NRDC also recommends using devices like Roku boxes and Chromecasts for streaming, as they draw 30 to 45 times less power than their bigger siblings.

This report comes out just as Sony is adding suspend-resume to the PlayStation 4, so it'll be interesting to see how Sony's system compares once that feature gets more use. The report doesn't include any numbers about just how many users are actually using the Xbox One's standby feature, either, so it's hard to tell just where we actually sit on that "as much as $250 million" scale. Similarly, there's no way to see how many more users will use the PlayStation 4's newly improved equivalent. Even so, it would be great to see Microsoft find ways to decrease that power consumption. Part of it is used to maintain the save state of whatever apps and games are suspended and part is used to keep the Kinect listening. An option to have the Kinect not listen during certain parts of the day – sleep, work – could drop the power consumption even more.

$15 a year may or may not be a big drop in the bucket for some gamers, but when it climbs into the millions of dollars and kilowatt hours, it looks like a much bigger issue and something Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo could all stand to put some research muscle behind.