Wow! 2018 TV Set-Top Box Energy Use Down By $1.6 Billion

National set-top box energy use is down by almost 40 percent since 2012, according to a report released today, which means consumers are spending $1.6 billion less per year to power the black boxes connected to their TVs. While set-top boxes used to access Pay TV from cable, satellite, and telephone companies were quite inefficient back in 2012, the industry has been working hard to improve the new ones they purchase to install in our homes. 

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As a result, consumers now have lower electric bills and nationally we are avoiding the need to generate four large coal burning power plants’ worth of electricity. This means cleaner air and 9 million fewer metric tons of carbon emissions annually. And with the shift toward streaming and the increasing availability of “apps,” many of the almost 200 million set-top boxes installed in the United States can soon be retired, delivering even more savings and avoided pollution.

Why is set-top box energy use going down?

Due to a Voluntary Agreement signed in 2013 and renewed in 2018 between leading service providers like Comcast, AT&T, and Charter Communications, NRDC, and the box manufacturers, the industry has committed to purchase lower power consuming set-top boxes. The agreement sets limits on how much energy each type of box can consume annually. According to the just released annual report published by the agreement’s Steering Committee, over 95 percent of all new boxes purchased by the service providers in 2018 met the energy use requirements.

Annual Energy Saved by the Voluntary Agreement Procurement Commitments

This chart shows how the savings from the agreement continue to grow as the older, less efficient models are replaced by newer, more efficient ones.

Some of the biggest energy-saving gains come from the DVR, that wonderful device that allows you to record your favorite sporting event (like games by my beloved Golden State Warriors) or sitcom for future viewing. While the average DVR used 267 kilowatt hours per year (kWh/yr) in 2012, today’s DVRs use under 139 kWh/yr—a savings of almost 50 percent. In addition, the second and third TVs in the home often have a low power consuming “thin client” that uses only 50 kWh/yr or so, instead of another DVR or a regular set-top box. 

While national set-top box energy consumption has come down significantly, we still pay over $2 billion in utility bills to run our boxes. Much of that is due to a design flaw where the box continues to consume near full levels of power even though you are not watching or recording a show.

Tuning into additional savings

Fortunately, the industry is rapidly changing when it comes to how they deliver content to our homes. The new way uses streaming and customers can receive all their current channels and DVR functionality through an app on their internet-connected televisions. In many cases, a customer will be able to get rid of their set top boxes, which can result in annual energy bill savings of more than $50 if they had older, less efficient set-top boxes. Rather than storing shows on a hard drive inside your DVR, the content will be stored in the cloud and you will be to access it on your television or in many cases, also on your tablet or cell phone as well. (Note, each home will continue to have a modem and router, or gateway box for not only receiving and distributing incoming video, but also for surfing the web, sending emails, etc.)

What You Can Do to Make Sure You’re Saving Energy

Check with your service provider and see if you can return your DVR and other set-top boxes and instead shift to a streaming-based plan that delivers the same services. If you need to keep your set-top box, be sure to request a newer, more efficient model if you have an older model. (Click here to see the annual energy use of all recent models.) In either case, you’ll be saving money and helping to reduce the sizable carbon footprint associated with pay TV.

Let’s hope the industry keeps tuning into this issue and doubles down on their efforts to avoid wasting energy, bringing even greater energy and pollution savings in the future.

About the Authors

Noah Horowitz

Director, Center for Energy Efficiency Standards, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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