Sunday, June 26, 2011

Energy Suckers

My household uses much less natural gas (for heating, cooking and hot water) than others in our neighborhood. While we're almost always the energy-efficient neighbor everyone else is trying to emulate when it comes to natural gas, we're the exact opposite for electricity usage: On the graphs mailed by our utility company, we're always above the usage line for our neighborhood, and in some months, significantly above it.

We aren't completely sure why, although having lots of computers and a person who works at home are definitely part of it. But this New York Times article on energy-sucking cable boxes and digital video recorders may explain another piece of it.

Tivo DVR device with remote control
As writer Elizabeth Rosenthal puts it, "One high-definition DVR and one high-definition cable box use an average of 446 kilowatt hours a year, about 10 percent more than a 21-cubic-foot energy-efficient refrigerator, a recent study found."

We've only got one each of those digital devices in our house (unlike people with multiple TVs strewn about their residences), but I'll bet my energy-efficient neighbors are DVRless, and possibly cableless, too.

Sixty-six percent of the energy used by cable boxes and DVRs is wasted because they run at full capacity even when they're not being used. And there's one cable box for every two Americans, a ratio that has been getting closer to 1:1 every year.

Does it have to be this way? Nope. Equivalent devices in Europe have a standby mode, which uses half the energy, and sometimes even a deep sleep mode that uses only 5 percent.

Why don't American devices work that way? According to Rosenthal:

Cable providers and box manufacturers like Cisco Systems, Samsung and Motorola currently do not feel consumer pressure to improve box efficiency. Customers are generally unaware of the problem — they do not know to blame the unobtrusive little device for the rise in their electricity bills, and do not choose their boxes anyway.
Manufacturers and cable providers think that American consumers won't like the more energy-efficient devices because coming out of standby mode (or especially out of deep sleep) currently takes longer than consumers expect to wait for their television fix.

I understand that -- I would be impatient waiting two minutes before I got my favorite program to start. But jeez, aren't we willing to give up anything to maintain our cushy lifestyles? Can't I plan ahead even a little bit?

It sounds an awful lot like people who complain about water-efficient toilets and compact fluorescent light bulbs.


Ms Sparrow said...

All those lights that are on overnight are energy suckers. But if you unplug everything, you have to reset them the next day. Industry obviously doesn't give a damn about wasted energy and we can't do much about it.

Marsha Qualey said...

All that energy just so I can watch what I want to watch when I want to watch. Good to know. Thanks.