As part of the national effort to reduce demand for electricity, government and industry have agreed to work together on a problem many people don’t know they have.
The consumer electronics industry has entered into a voluntary agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy to boost the energy efficiency of set-top boxes, which receive signals from cable, satellite, broadband or local networks so you can entertain yourself.
The new standards will improve set-top box efficiency by 10 percent to 45 percent (depending on box type) by 2017, and they are expected to save more than $1 billion on consumer energy bills annually, the Energy Department announced.
Set-top boxes may dim when they’re turned off, but they’re never powered down unless they’re unplugged. They continue to use electricity so the service provider can send software updates.
Set-top boxes have proliferated, partly as a result of federal law requiring broadcasters to switch from over-the-air analog signals to digital programming in 2009.
As more households acquire set-top boxes, more electricity is used: According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, millions of these devices now in use across the United States “are silently consuming more electricity per year than the State of Nebraska.”
The Energy Department says the set-top box efficiency standards ultimately will save enough electricity each year to power 700,000 homes, avoiding more than five million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
“As Americans increasingly rely on more electronic devices and gadgets, managing energy consumption is both an environmental and economic priority for consumers and industry alike,” said Michael Powell, president and CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. “The cable industry is working hard to improve the overall consumer experience and we are proud to develop solutions that will reduce our energy footprint and result in real energy savings for millions of consumers.”
The non-regulatory agreement says the Energy Department, pay-TV industry and energy efficiency advocates will work together on efficient, high-performing set-top boxes, achieving what would otherwise be done through new regulations and test procedures.
“The set-top box is an integral part of the broad, diverse, and often-changing entertainment experience in most American households,” said Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association. “The expanded voluntary set-top box energy conservation agreement accommodates both rapid evolution and energy efficiency for this product category and demonstrates our industry’s commitment in leading the way to provide consumers with products that reduce energy consumption and save money.”
The agreement, which runs through 2017, covers all types of set-top boxes from pay-TV providers, including cable, satellite and telephone companies.
The agreement also requires the pay-TV industry to publicly report model-specific set-top box energy use and requires an annual audit of service providers by an independent auditor to ensure boxes are performing at the efficiency levels specified in the agreement.
The Energy Department retains its authority to test set-top boxes under the Energy Star verification program.