The Natural Resources Defense Council has
conducted a study that places the spotlight on how inefficient cable boxes and DVR's are in American homes.
These boxes, which guide cable signals and digital
recording capacity into televisions, run at a constant rate and can utilize
more power than a new refrigerator or air conditioning unit.
According to the study, there are 160
million set-top boxes in the U.S., and this number is increasing. These boxes
run 24 hours per day, even when they're not being used. The study found that
add-on DVR's use an additional 40 percent more power than the set-top box.
The Natural Resources Defense Council found that
these boxes consume $3 billion in electricity per year in the U.S., and 66
percent of this power is drained when no one is even using it. Also, one high
definition cable box and one high definition DVR use about 446 kilowatt-hours
per year, which is 10 percent more than a 21-cubic-foot refrigerator that is
The study notes that the problem here is that
these boxes' hard drives are constantly on, which is a design made by
electronics companies and cable/internet providers. There is a way of changing
this feature, but these fixes are not being mandated in the U.S., even though
these fixes could reduce waiting time and inconvenience associated with these
"The issue of having more efficient equipment
is of interest to us," said Justin Venech, spokesman for Time Warner
Cable. "[But] when we purchase the equipment, functionality and cost are
the primary considerations."
Some countries in Europe already have boxes that
go into standby mode or deep sleep mode when not in use. This reduces energy
consumption by 95 percent, and when a cable box is in deep sleep mode, it only
takes one or two minutes to reboot.
"I don't want to use the word 'lazy,' but
they have had different priorities, and saving
energy is not one of them," said Alan Meier, a scientist
at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, of the industry in the U.S.
John Wilson, a former member of the California
Energy Commission who is now with the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation,
remembers asking box makers why the hard drives ran even when they're not in
use, and the typical answer was, "Nobody asked us to use less."
But now, the Environmental Protection Agency plans
to strengthen its Energy Star standards by 2013. Some of
today's boxes have obtained the Energy Star seal and do not possess standby or
sleep modes. But according to Noah Horowitz, senior scientist at the natural
resources council, many of these boxes have an on/off button that just dims the
clock and doesn't significantly decrease power use. Also, he noted that cable
boxes are not designed to be turned on and off entirely, but adjusting the
software over a cable could greatly improve energy efficiency.
As of September 1, average electricity consumption
of Energy Star qualified products are to drop to 97 kilowatt hours a year from
about 138, and by the middle of 2013, they must decrease to 29 kilowatt hours
per year. Cisco says it plans to offer new box models this year that will
comply with the new regulations by cutting energy consumption by 25 percent. It
will do this by adding a standby mode, but not a sleep mode.