How much energy do TVs really use?

About 4 years ago I started noticing that flat panel, big screen TVs started to pop up almost everywhere I went. Places like the hotel lobby, the fitness center, restaurants, at the airport and increasingly in our friends' homes. Also overnight, the size of TVs seemed to almost double.

As an energy efficiency advocate I had to know the answer to the question, "how much energy do these new LCD and plasma TVs really use?". Much to my surprise there was virtually no public information available about their energy use or cost to operate. The only thing out there was the number on the back of the TV that indicates how much power a TV can safely draw before it becomes unsafe to operate.

Not to be deterred I worked with our consultant Ecos Consulting to measure the power use of the latest TVs. We went into a few big box stores armed with a power meter and a 2 minute clip of the movie Shrek and measured the power draw of the TVs that were on display. To make a long story short, here is what we found:

  • Some of the bigger, less efficient models consumed more electricity each year than a new refrigerator and can cost several hundred dollars to operate over their 10 year life.
  • There was a wide range of energy use between similar sized models. In general, plasmas consumed considerably more energy than equivalent LCD models.
  • TVs now represent approximately 5 % of residential electricity use and over 1% of all national electricity use.

I have since dedicated much of the last few years to moving the industry towards more efficient designs. The potential dividends are enormous and include cutting our nation's electric bill by up to $10 billion/yr, eliminating the need for several large power plants, and preventing millions of tons of carbon dioxide, the main heat trapping pollutant responsible for global warming.

And I'm excited to say that my home state of California may lead the way on this one — stay tuned for more on that later.