Abstract Passive Optical Network (PON) supported networks are a promising infrastructure of the next generation access network. Achieving low energy consumption while providing high data rate has attracted broad research attention from both academia and industry. In this article, we review the industry standards progress on the PON supported access network with a focus on energy saving. We also survey the recent academic research proposals on the energy-efficient network design. After studying the energy consumption profiles of access network devices, we propose the downstream burst transmission (DBT) scheme to save energy from the receiver data processing engines. DBT is backward compatible and does not disturb the access network services. Its energy analysis is based on a system state model of the Markov chain. We further evaluate the DBT scheme performance from several sets of simulations. Simulations demonstrate that DBT improves the downstream transmission energy saving with salient results.