The amount of energy consumed by the set-top boxes used to access pay-TV in homes is due to go down another 20 per cent due to new commitments made by leading service providers such as Comcast, AT&T, and Dish Network, according to a blog post from the Natural Resources Defense Council. This progress is the result of a unique collaboration between the pay-TV service providers and leading environmental groups like NRDC that was signed in 2013 and just extended this week.
To date, it has reduced national annual set-top box energy use by $1 billion and more savings are on the way as the older models are replaced by new, more efficient ones.
There are more than 225 million set top boxes located in US households and they have a typical lifetime of around five years. Because these boxes continue to consume near full levels of power even when the user is not watching or recording a show, the energy and environmental impacts of their usage really add up. Back in 2012, America’s households were paying more than $4 billion in energy costs to operate these devices and powering them produced 24 million tons of climate-change pollution annually.
After extensive negotiations between two leading energy efficiency advocacy groups (NRDC and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, or ACEEE), and the pay-TV industry (the service providers and the leading set-top box manufacturers), a joint “Voluntary Agreement for Ongoing Improvement to the Energy Efficiency of Set-Top Boxes,” or VA for short, was signed in 2013. The core element was an industry commitment to procure more energy efficient set-top boxes. Additionally, the service providers have invested in new architectures whereby a single digital video recorder (DVR) is connected to the main television and a much lower-energy-consuming box called a thin client is installed on the other TVs in the home instead of additional DVR(s).
The VA has been extremely effective and has already saved consumers $2.1 billion and avoided almost 12 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions through 2016. The 2016 VA Annual Report shows the national energy savings continues to grow as the older, less-efficient models are replaced with new ones.
This month the initial VA was extended for another four years and once the next tier of the agreement is in full effect, national set-top box energy use will be almost 40 per cent lower than in 2012, saving four large, 500-megawatt, coal-burning power plants’ worth of electricity every year. That’s equal to the amount of electricity consumed each year by all the households in Chicago. Because of the agreement, annual US consumer savings will grow to $1.6 billion in energy costs by 2025.
Another great development is the industry’s drive towards “apps” whereby the user can access both live and recorded programming directly on their new Smart TV without a set-top box. This has the potential to drive down national energy use and related carbon emissions even further. Consumers win by getting rid of their set-top box and the related clutter, and will save $25 to $50 per year on their electric bills, depending on the type and age of the set-top box(es) in their home. The service providers benefit from not having to stock and service millions of set-top boxes and also avoid having to send all those service trucks to install them in our homes.