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Powering Cable Boxes Costs Us $3 Billion Per Year--And Much of That Energy Could Be Saved

6/16/2011 10:15:49 AM

Tags: cable box power usage, National Resources Defense Council, cable television set-top boxes, energy-efficient TV set-top boxes, energy-efficient cable boxes, Robyn Griggs Lawrence

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailI’m not a big TV watcher, but I do have cable and I do have favorite shows (American Pickers and Pawn Stars, namely). I’m all too aware of the life hours the tube can suck up, and now I have another reason to be wary. Last year, according to the National Resources Defense Council, cable set-top boxes in the United States consumed approximately 27 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity—equivalent to the annual output of nine coal-fired power plants. The electricity required to operate all U.S. boxes is equal to the annual household electricity consumption of the entire state of Maryland, results in 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and costs households more than $3 billion each year. Wow.

More than 80 percent of U.S. homes subscribe to some form of pay television service, and approximately 160 million set-top boxes—nearly all of them owned and installed by the cable, satellite, phone, or other service provider—deliver their signals. Fortunately, NRDC states, these boxes show great potential for improved energy efficiency because they operate at near full power even when viewers are neither watching nor recording a show. As a nation, we spend $2 billion each year to power boxes that are not being actively used.

The growing popularity of Digital Video Recorders (DVRs), which are now in use by 35 percent of cable watchers, has contributed to the problem. DVRs typically use around 40 percent more energy per year than their non-DVR counterparts, which has caused the equivalent total annual energy consumption of installed boxes to grow from six to nine power plants.

Better designed pay-TV set-top boxes could reduce energy use by 30 percent to 50 percent by 2020. Boxes that automatically power down to much lower power levels when not in use and multi-room technologies enable consumers to schedule recordings once on a central DVR and to view these recordings from any TV in the home should help bring the power needs down.


 Sucking up wattage. iStock photo 

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6/18/2011 11:45:36 AM
Ecos Consulting was doing some research into STB power consumption ( There are a couple of reasons for the high power usage: a) old technology. Many MSOs still use very old, inefficient STBs because they are paid for and renting them to you is very profitable; b) the communication between the STB and the MSO is on all the time - regardless of whether you have the STB on or "off" (standby). That is a throwback to the early days and could be done differently and more efficiently (IMHO). This all gets more complicated if you have TV, high speed data (HSD) and phone via your cable provider (triple play). Phone is HSD and both phone and HSD are very similar to the way TV is delivered...and for obvious reasons, phone is not very tolerant of less than 100% all the time. Still, with an eye to efficiency, they could do much better.

6/16/2011 3:40:35 PM
The science on this seems pretty weak when you don't account for the lack of commercials being played when you use a DVR. This could possibly reduce amount of hours the TV is on. It might not change the numbers much but until someone checks we won't know.

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