Monday, June 27, 2011

The Big Draw

Forget about televisions, washing machines, dryers, or even refrigerators. The ubiquitous set-top boxes (standard, HD, or DVR) necessary to run cable/fiber television programming is turning into the top power draw in homes throughout the United States.

Even when turned off, they draw power far in excess what anyone could possibly imagine.

Over the course of a year, each boxes can draw more power than a 21 cubic foot refrigerator. When homes have multiple boxes, the numbers add up quickly.
There are 160 million so-called set-top boxes in the United States, one for every two people, and that number is rising. Many homes now have one or more basic cable boxes as well as add-on DVRs, or digital video recorders, which use 40 percent more power than the set-top box.

One high-definition DVR and one high-definition cable box use an average of 446 kilowatt hours a year, about 10 percent more than a 21-cubic-foot energy-efficient refrigerator, a recent study found.

These set-top boxes are energy hogs mostly because their drives, tuners and other components are generally running full tilt, or nearly so, 24 hours a day, even when not in active use. The recent study, by the Natural Resources Defense Council, concluded that the boxes consumed $3 billion in electricity per year in the United States — and that 66 percent of that power is wasted when no one is watching and shows are not being recorded. That is more power than the state of Maryland uses over 12 months.

“People in the energy efficiency community worry a lot about these boxes, since they will make it more difficult to lower home energy use,” said John Wilson, a former member of the California Energy Commission who is now with the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation. “Companies say it can’t be done or it’s too expensive. But in my experience, neither one is true. It can be done, and it often doesn’t cost much, if anything.”
Reducing the power consumption for these devices is critical to reducing power consumption and need for additional power. There's no reason that these devices should draw as much power as they are. The cable providers claim it is necessary to provide programming and updates without interruption, but this would appear to be a software issue and if the boxes are designed to improve efficiency, the power consumption issue could be solved.

After all, boxes in Europe draw a fraction of the power.

It's past time for the cable companies and providers to get on the ball and reduce power consumption for their devices.

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