Green Advocates Critical of New CE Products
Green supporters see red in power-consuming home electronics devices.
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November 15, 2007 by Steven Castle

Consumer electronics made quite a splash at the Energy Efficiency Global Forum & Exposition (EE Global) in Washington, DC—but not in a good way.

Home electronics devices from plasma-based TVs to personal computers and more are being targeted by energy efficiency advocates as energy hogs. 

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, consumer electronics account for 11 percent of household energy use and 3 percent of all power used in the United States.

That may not sound like much, but Michael Howard, senior vice president of research and development for the Electric Power Research Institute (ERPI), says a 46-inch plasma consumes 300 watts, totaling 602 kilowatt hours of energy a year. By comparison, an older 36-inch CRT TV consumes 133 watts and 267 kilowatt hours a year. A cable TV set-top box consumes 30 watts of energy and is always on, racking up 262 kilowatt hours of electricity annually.

And the problem isn’t just inefficient electronics on their “on” states. Many consumer electronics still pull power from a home’s electrical outlet when turned “off.” This is called standby or vampire power, and includes AC-to-DC transformers in computers and external transformers used by portable computers, electrical chargers, and virtually any consumer electronics device with a remote control. The IR (infrared) sensor remains on to hunt for a signal.

Douglas Johnson, CEA’s senior director of policy and international affairs, says standby power accounts for one quarter of consumer electronic energy consumption. Other studies have estimated that standby power to use as much as 13 percent of a household’s electricity use.

No surprise, then, that many believe it is time to make consumer electronics devices more energy efficient.  “A lot of this [can be rectified via] design changes. A lot of existing designs have this [standby power mode], and don’t need to be on,” says James McMahon, head of the energy analysis department of the environmental energy technologies division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “We’re trying to make it easier for consumers to turn things completely off.”

Some progress is being made. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is reportedly considering a way to label power on TVs. New requirements for external AC/DC transformers are in the works. And Energy Star, the program for labeling energy efficient products and operated by the Department of Energy, is revising the spec for set-top boxes. Many TVs are also Energy Star rated for consuming less than 1 watt in power in standby mode. However, Energy Star is a voluntary program for manufacturers, and many energy efficiency advocates want mandatory standards.

The CEA, however, opposes mandatory energy efficiency standards for consumer electronics, due to the possibility of the standards hindering the advances in technology. In addition, the vast range of electronics and their varying energy needs makes having one comprehensive standard impractical, says Johnson.

“Where the industry does need to take initiative is in energy disclosures,” he adds.

Looks like a battle is brewing on regulating electronics power, but we can at least look forward to some improvements in the energy efficiency of our electronics. Stay tuned, but maybe not on your high-wattage TV.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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