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Powering Cable Boxes Costs Us $3 Billion Per Year--And Much of That Energy Could Be Saved

6/16/2011 12:00:00 AM

Tags: electricity, energy use, television, TV, DVR, cable, NRDC

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailI’m not a big TV watcher, but I do have cable and I do have favorite shows (American Pickers and Pawn Stars, namely). I’m all too aware of the life hours the tube can suck up, and now I have another reason to be wary. Last year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, cable set-top boxes in the United States consumed approximately 27 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity—equivalent to the annual output of nine coal-fired power plants. The electricity required to operate all U.S. boxes is equal to the annual household electricity consumption of the entire state of Maryland, results in 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and costs households more than $3 billion each year. Wow.

More than 80 percent of U.S. homes subscribe to some form of pay television service, and approximately 160 million set-top boxes—nearly all of them owned and installed by the cable, satellite, phone, or other service provider—deliver their signals. Fortunately, NRDC states, these boxes show great potential for improved energy efficiency because they operate at near full power even when viewers are neither watching nor recording a show. As a nation, we spend $2 billion each year to power boxes that are not being actively used.

The growing popularity of Digital Video Recorders (DVRs), which are now in use by 35 percent of cable watchers, has contributed to the problem. DVRs typically use around 40 percent more energy per year than their non-DVR counterparts, which has caused the equivalent total annual energy consumption of installed boxes to grow from six to nine power plants.

Better designed pay-TV set-top boxes could reduce energy use by 30 percent to 50 percent by 2020. Boxes that automatically power down to much lower power levels when not in use and multi-room technologies enable consumers to schedule recordings once on a central DVR and to view these recordings from any TV in the home should help bring the power needs down.


 Sucking up wattage. iStock photo 

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