And you thought that sitting at home watching Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, while not particularly good for your psyche, wasn’t doing any damage to the environment, right? Well, it turns out that your set-top cable box is an energy hog, since it runs constantly. Last year, the Natural Resources Defense Council published a report that found that “in 2010 set-top boxes in the United States consumed approximately 27 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, which is the equivalent to the annual output of nine average (500 MW) coal-fired power plants.” Two-thirds of the energy used by a set-top box is consumed when it’s not in use, the group found.
This week there’s a bit of good news for eco-couch-potatoes: According to a voluntary agreement by cable TV operators and appliance manufacturers that will go into effect January 1, at least 90 percent of all new set-top boxes purchased and put into use after 2013 will meet EPA Energy Star 3.0 efficiency levels. Under those standards, the boxes would use 30 percent less energy than the boxes in homes today. And the coalition says it will immediately download “light sleep” capability into 10 million digital video recorders that are already in homes. Under “light sleep,” you can’t watch or record, but your box remains connected to the network so it can offer “instant on” capability.
NRDC says the industry can go further. It notes that the EPA is already planning to unveil Energy Star 4.0 levels in July. Those rules encourage the use of “deep sleep” mode, which would reduce a cable box’s energy consumption when not in use to less than 15 percent of the energy it consumes when you’re watching or recording your favorite reality show. As used by Sky Broadcasting in Europe, when not in use, a “deep sleep” box wakes briefly every half hour to check for scheduled activity, but is otherwise dormant, saving heaps of electricity. The downside: customers must endure a 90-second wait before watching Hawaii Five-O.
“It’s good that cable and satellite companies recognize the need to provide consumers with set-top boxes that waste less energy,” NRDC senior scientist Noah Horowitz said in a statement. “Unfortunately, their proposal is a far cry from what is needed to significantly decrease the $2 billion worth of electricity these devices waste each year.”
What to do in the low-tech meantime? Cut your power drain by plugging all your media devices into a power strip and turning it off when not in use. (But that means you won’t be able to record lost episodes while you sleep.)
Image by iStock/mgkaya.
Reed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”