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NRDC: High-end TVs add $1.2bn to electricity bills

According to an analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), disputed by trade body the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), there are flaws in the US government’s method for testing the energy use of televisions and three major TV manufacturers representing half of the market appear to be exploiting them, which could cost owners of recently purchased models an extra $1.2 billion (€1.07bn) on their utility bills.

In its report – The Secret Costs of Manufacturers Exploiting Loopholes in the Government’s TV Energy Test: $1.2 Billion for Consumers, Millions of Tons of Pollution – NRDC and its consultant Ecos Research found that just a few clicks on a remote control could lead many 2015 and 2016 televisions from Samsung, LG, and Vizio to use up to twice the energy that consumers were told they would. The additional electricity consumed over the 10-year lifetimes of these TVs with screens 32 inches and larger would be enough to power every home in Los Angeles for a year and would create an additional five million metric tons of the carbon pollution fuelling climate change.

Noah Horowitz, senior scientist and director, Center for Energy Efficiency Standards, NRDC, said: “It appears that some major manufacturers have modified their TV designs to get strong energy-use marks during government testing but they may not perform as well in consumers’ homes. These ‘under the hood’ changes dramatically increase a TV’s energy use and environmental impact, usually without the user’s knowledge. While this may not be illegal, it smacks of bad-faith conduct that falls outside the intent of the government test method designed to accurately measure TV energy use.”

According to NRDC, the higher energy use culprits are: (1) deficiencies in the US Department of Energy (DOE) method for testing the energy use of all new television models and steps by Samsung and LG that appear to take advantage of the DOE loopholes by designing TVs to get a better score; and (2) software design by those two plus Vizio to disable key energy-saving features, with little to no on-screen warning, if the consumer changes the main picture setting. The increased energy use is not reflected in the DOE test.

The NRDC report found that:

  • The DOE energy-use test contains much shorter scenes and more frequent cuts between them than typical real-world content from sports, dramas, and news programmes. The analysis showed higher energy use with the real-world clip than the one used in DOE testing. Almost all Samsung and LG TVs have a motion-detection dimming feature, which dims or briefly turns off the screen’s backlight when the content on display has rapid motion and frequent scene changes like in the test clip and some commercials and music videos. The DOE test results are used on the yellow EnergyGuide mandated to be displayed on every television so consumers can compare various models’ energy use, as well as by the ENERGY STAR label programme that indicates the more energy efficient products on the market.
  • Samsung, LG, and Vizio also have designed their TVs to disable energy-saving features whenever users change the main picture setting, doing so with no or little adequate on-screen warning, which can boost energy use by 50 to 100 per cent, or more. Manufacturers are likely designing their televisions this way as a means to increase the brightness of the television screen in an attempt to enhance perceived owner satisfaction, but the extra energy use is not accounted for in the DOE test.
  • The latest version of ultra-high-definition (UHD) TVs used approximately 30 to 50 per cent more energy when playing content produced with High Dynamic Range (HDR) than conventional UHD content. In addition, the TV’s energy-saving features were automatically disabled whenever HDR content was played. HDR-capable TVs deliver bolder colours, brighter images, and higher contrast that will make the format increasingly popular but the test method does not include HDR content so the extra energy use is not reflected.

NRDC shared its test results with Samsung, LG, and Vizio and none of them disputed the accuracy of the results or claimed they were limited to a subset of models. Both DOE and the US Environmental Protection Agency, which manages the ENERGY STAR label, are aware of the issues and are updating their policies.

“With millions of televisions purchased annually across America, all of this extra energy use has a major impact on national energy consumption, consumer utility bills, and the environment. In some cases, a TV’s annual energy use will be twice the levels that manufacturers reported. Steps must be taken to ensure televisions are as energy efficient as possible during actual use and not just during government testing,” Horowitz said.

Chris Calwell, principal, Ecos Research, added: “The global standard video clip on which the DOE test method is based is eight years old and needs a major overhaul. DOE should update its test method with more realistic video content, including video encoded in high dynamic range (HDR), to ensure that the resulting measurements are closer to what consumers would actually experience when using their TVs at home.”

Concerns about reported levels of TV energy use are not a new development. In 2015, NRDC and Ecos Research conducted the first comprehensive independent testing of the energy use of new ultra-high-definition (UHD) televisions. NRDC found inexplicable and sustained drops in energy use in these big-screen TVs from certain manufacturers, beginning within the first minute of the video test loop used in the DOE test method. Not long afterward, European energy agencies reported similar results.

NRDC and Ecos Research then performed laboratory testing in 2015 and 2016 under a range of conditions on recent 55-inch and larger models—two Samsung, one LG, and one Vizio. The testing used the 10-minute loop specified by the DOE protocol, as well as two alternatives: real-world content reflecting more typical viewing; and UHD + HDR movies. Separate in-store testing was conducted on 21 models from six manufacturers to determine the persistence of energy-saving features when the user made a change to the picture setting. Of the models tested, the features were disabled only on Samsung, LG, and Vizio models.

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, Consumer Technology Association, described the report as “consistent with NRDC’s typical approach – sensational-but-meaningless headlines, facts either misstated or irrelevant to the claims and an inexplicable hostility to an industry that has done so much to reduce energy usage.”

“Televisions are an energy efficiency success story. Dating back to the 90s, our industry has worked closely with government – especially through the enormously popular and well-recognized ENERGY STAR consumer programme and the more recent EnergyGuide labeling programme. As of 2014, the ENERGY STAR program has helped save families and businesses $363 billion on utility bills, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 2.4 billion metric tons. Innovation is constantly driving TV models to become thinner, lighter and more energy efficient.”

“None of this progress was caused in any way by NRDC’s war on the TV industry. NRDC has falsely claimed credit for changes in TV technology and actually blocked enactment of a California law requiring recent data – not 20-year-old cathode-ray tube data – be used in measuring TV set efficiency. NRDC continues to wrongly claim mythical energy savings from the California regulations it pushed for, when in fact the history of technology proves that innovation has driven fundamental changes in video screen technology – a process NRDC had nothing to do with.”

“The technology sector has long been in the vanguard on energy efficiency policy and research through data collection, analysis, public reporting and strong competition. The industry has proactively taken steps to reduce our national energy consumption and related emissions through creative, new efforts including the set-top box and Small Network Equipment voluntary agreements. And CTA research shows that even as we use more and more tech devices in our homes, their share of our overall in-home energy usage is actually decreasing.”

“The TV settings used in the energy efficiency testing processes can be and are used in the real world, unless consumers want a different viewing experience – any deception here comes only from the NRDC, and we hope its board and contributors begin an internal investigation into this misplaced hostility toward energy-efficient technology, blockage of science-based policy and personal vendetta by NRDC’s so-called scientists.”

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