Great News: Cable Set-Top Box Energy Use Continues to Fall
Great news for anyone who watches cable: a new report confirms that the equipment in your home used to watch cable continues to get more and more energy-efficient.
Great news for anyone who watches cable: a new report confirms that the equipment in your home used to watch cable continues to get more and more energy-efficient. According to the latest annual report of the Voluntary Agreement for Ongoing Improvement to the Energy Efficiency of Set-Top Boxes, the energy consumption of all U.S. set-top boxes was down by over 50% compared to 2012, dropping to 15.2 terawatt-hours (TWh), compared 32 TWh in 2012. While a portion of that decrease was driven by a decrease in the number of cable TV subscribers, the weighted average annual energy consumption for new boxes was less than 64 kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2020, down from 120 kWh in 2013. That works out to $2.2 billion in energy savings for consumers.
That’s not just good news for those who like to watch TV and appreciate the lower monthly energy bills—reduced energy consumption means a reduced need to generate electricity. That means less pollution in our air, including climate-warming CO2. So far, the agreement has saved consumers $9.3 billion and avoided more than 50 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2 emissions. According to the new report, nearly 11.9 MMT of carbon emissions were avoided in 2020 alone. That works out to be the equivalent of a year’s worth of greenhouse gas emissions from three coal-fired power plants according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalency Calculator.
What Is the Voluntary Agreement?
In 2013, NRDC and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy joined a voluntary agreement with several groups, including both TV service providers (such as Comcast, Charter, AT&T, and Dish Network) and set-top box manufacturers, designed to reduce the energy consumption of set-top boxes. Or, as they’re known around my apartment, “those little boxes that the cable company gives you that let you watch TV.”
The agreement requires service providers to ensure that at least 90% of the set-top boxes they purchase each year meet minimum energy efficiency requirements. As my former colleague Noah Horowitz explained earlier this year, 2020 was the first year that the industry had to meet new, stricter “Tier 3” requirements. Those requirements helped ensure that the energy required to watch cable TV continues to go down.
The Voluntary Agreement was unanimously extended through 2025, and more stringent “Tier 4” standards are set to take effect in 2023. But you don’t need to wait until 2023 to save even more energy. If you’ve had the same set-top box for a while, call your provider and ask if they can provide you with a newer, more energy-efficient model. They might even be able to offer you an app that can let you get rid of your box entirely!
As part of the most recent extension of the agreement, industry agreed to fund a study to examine the upstream energy consumption associated with the use of these apps. (For example, it will consider the energy consumption of service providers’ data centers.) While we have good reason to believe increased use of these apps is a net-win for the environment, we want to make sure. NRDC will be engaged with that study as part of our continued involvement with the Voluntary Agreement.