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Set-top box agreement has produced powerful energy savings

image credit: Photo 167542182 © Iuliia Alekseeva | Dreamstime

A premise behind getting consumers to do such things as replace their incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs is that getting a large number of people to each save a small amount of energy will produce a large reduction in energy consumption.

The latest edition of an annual report that tallies the savings from an agreement between pay-TV providers, set-top box makers and two advocacy groups provides some evidence to support that premise.

The goal of the Voluntary Agreement for Ongoing Improvement to the Energy Efficiency of Set-Top Boxes was to improve the boxes’ energy efficiency (Duh!) while leaving room for their manufacturers and pay-TV companies to keep adding features to them. According to the 2019 report on the agreement, which was put together and recently issued by environmental consulting firm D+R International, it has succeeded.

The report found that the annual energy consumption of all the set-top boxes in the country has declined by 14.7 terawatt hours, or 46 percent, from 32 TWh in 2012 to 17.3 TWh in 2019, since the agreement has been in effect. That, the report says, is nearly equivalent to the energy that five 500-MW coal-fired power plants put out in a year.

Cumulatively, the report estimates that the agreement has reduced the amount of energy that set-top boxes consume by 55.1 TWh, which is enough to power all the homes in California for more than seven months. As a result, consumers have saved approximately $7.1 billion and nearly 39 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions have been avoided.

TV-watching consumers are likely to save even more power in the future, as the National Resources Defense Council, which was one of the two advocacy groups to sign the agreement — the other was the National Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy — noted in a blog post on the report. The reason is that more and more consumers are doing away with their set-top boxes completely and accessing programming through apps on smart TVs or streaming devices like Apple TV and Roku sticks.

That might produce a small energy savings for individual consumers, but it could result in a giant energy savings for mankind.

 

Discussions

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Michael O'Brien Crayne's picture
Michael O'Brien Crayne on Aug 26, 2020

Thanks for sharing, Peter. This is a good example of how small residential energy efficiency measures can make significant impacts in aggregate. 

What I find interesting about this particular initiative is that it lets consumers reap the benefits of efficiency (e.g. lower utility bills) without requiring them to make any decisions/investments based on energy. Unless I'm mistaken (since I haven't had paid TV service in a few years), when you sign up for paid TV the service provider decides which box you get based on the features you sign up for (HD, DVR, multi-room, etc.), and they have one box for each combination of features. And I don't think energy efficiency is a factor in most people's minds when deciding which provider to go with.

I'm a fan of finding ways to get people to use less energy without them even knowing it.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 26, 2020

I'm a fan of finding ways to get people to use less energy without them even knowing it.

Couldn't agree more! So many energy efficiency developments are these break through new technologies or opportunities, but fail to deliver because of the human factor. Customer behavior is tough to change, but if you can get those savings without having to alter behavior much or at all? That's the sweet spot!

Peter Key's picture
Peter Key on Aug 26, 2020

Michael, I agree with what you're saying. I used to cover the cable industry and I didn't recall this deal, so I doubt that many people outside of the folks who negotiated this deal pay much attention to it either, but it's produced some pretty impressive benefits.

Eric Van Orden's picture
Eric Van Orden on Aug 26, 2020

Based on he headline, I first thought this story was about leveraging set-top boxes as a hub for smart home devices and coordinated communications/controls for energy savings throughout the home. That seems like a good opportunity that hasn't come to fruition.

In the meantime, I'm impressed by the terawatt hour volume of energy savings from efficiency of the boxes. While we aren't always using TV, internet, or communications services delivered through set-tops/routers, it seems like an inconvenience or undesired appliance to turn on and off for behavioral savings. But, small efficiencies in each box clearly go a long way. 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 26, 2020

Based on he headline, I first thought this story was about leveraging set-top boxes as a hub for smart home devices and coordinated communications/controls for energy savings throughout the home. That seems like a good opportunity that hasn't come to fruition.

As someone who too regularly has to grapple with various smart home hubs and communicators, I love this idea! Do you know if any major set top providers are actively exploring such a possibility? Seems like a good way to also lock smart home owners into a specific ecosystem of products

Peter Key's picture
Peter Key on Aug 26, 2020

Comcast offers Xfinity Home, which I think either began as a home security offering or emphasized the home security part of its package. It's now "a new generation of services that allow users to control or monitor security cameras, smoke detectors, thermostats, lighting and motion sensors, all through an in-home touch screen console or remotely through a Web-based portal or Internet-connected device, such as a smartphone or tablet."

Comcast apparently has had a deal with EcoFactor to offer its customers cloud-based home energy services since 2012, but I haven't looked into what that deal has produced.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 27, 2020

Interesting. I would think that the first cable company to find and strike a deal with Amazon, Google, Apple, Samsung, or one of the other major smart home hubs would see some of the greatest opportunities. 

Peter Key's picture
Peter Key on Sep 1, 2020

I think the coverage of smart home technology is much greater than the technology's actual penetration. It's coming in fits and starts — smart doorbells seem to be catching on now — but it's not widely adopted yet.

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