Wednesday, June 15, 2011

NRDC Reports Set Top Boxes Waste $2 Billion of Electricity Every Year

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has recently released a report on the energy use of commonly used set-top boxes including the DVRs installed by the cable, satellite and telephone companies that enable you to access pay-TV. According to their findings Digital video recorders (DVRs), cable and other pay-TV boxes cost American consumers and average of $3 billion a year -- $1 billion to operate when in active use and an additional $2 billion while inactive but still running at near full power.

NRDC and its consultant Ecos recently went into the field and monitored the power used by basic set-top boxes and DVRs that were connected to a wide range of service providers including Time Warner, Comcast, Dish Network, Direct TV, AT&T and Verizon. According to their research almost all the boxes tested consumed nearly as much power when powered off as it did when its powered on. Hitting the power button simply dims the clock or display leaving the units in "standby mode" which for a typical DVR, instead of consuming 30 Watts when on, the box used 29 Watts. 

When you add it all up, this means it’s costing our nation $2 billion per year in electric bills to power devices when we are NOT using them.

Here are some of the key findings from their research:
  • More than 80% of US home subscribe to some form of pay-TV.  There are more than 160 million set-top boxes installed in US homes, or roughly one box for every two Americans.
  • On a national level set-top boxes are consuming 27 billion kilowatt-watt hours per year.  That’s equivalent to the annual electricity use of the entire state of Maryland.
  • It takes the equivalent of nine coal burning power plants (500 MW) to operate these devices. 

To put set-top box energy use into perspective for the average consumer, the NRDC developed the bar chart shown below. Some of the things to note:
  • Many DVRs consume more electricity each year than the big screen TV they are connected to.
  • A household with one DVR and one basic HD set top box uses roughly 450 kwh/yr or the equivalent annual electricity use of one new ENERGY STAR qualified refrigerator.

What can you do you may ask? Unfortunately until newer better boxes are out there aren't many options. You can call your pay-TV service provider and request a set-top box that meets ENERGY STAR Version 4.0. That means you’ll have the most efficient box on the market. Another option would be opting to simply kill all the power to the devices when not in use. We recently reviewed the Belkin Conserve Switch which offers users a way to remotely disconnect the power to all the devices it's connected to.

Any device like a surge suppressor or the Belkin Conserve Switch are a great was to shave a few dollars off the power bill, espeically in the upcoming summer months!

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