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Cable Technology Feature Article

June 28, 2011

DVR, Cable/Satellite Boxes Waste $2 Billion of Electricity Every Year

By Madhubanti Rudra, TMCnet Contributor

According to a new Natural Resources Defense Council-conducted study, “Reducing the National Energy Consumption of Set-Top Boxes”,  digital video recorders (DVRs), cable and other pay-TV boxes squander huge amount of energy annually, which is equivalent to annual energy output of six coal burning power plants (500 MW) because they are not equipped to power down when not being used.

In a press release, the council mentioned that these devices – also known as set top boxes – cost American consumers $3 billion a year in total. While the cost of operation is $1 billion, an additional $2 billion is wasted while these devices are inactive but still running at near full power.

There are approximately 160 million set-top boxes installed in US homes, or the equivalent of one box for every two Americans. According to an estimate, these boxes consume as much electricity each year as that consumed by the entire state of Maryland and are responsible for 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

Founded in 1970, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists. Its members include lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialist, who work for protecting the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment.

Senior scientist at the NRDC Noah Horowitz compared set-top boxes as home energy vampires that silently suck up significant amounts of energy and money when nobody’s using them. “The consumer, who pays the electric bill, deserves technologies without hidden costs. At a time when everyone is trying to cut waste from our budgets and electric grid, service providers shouldn't saddle their subscribers with boxes that unnecessarily squeeze their wallets,” Horowitz maintained in a statement.

The problem with these set top devices is that they still run at near full power when the consumer is neither watching nor recording a show. Hitting the on/off button merely dims the clock or display and does not significantly reduce the amount of power used.

The NRDC study recommended that set-top boxes be designed in a way so that they automatically go into a low power mode when people are neither watching nor recording a show. This according to the council will help in achieve dramatic energy savings.

This functionality is beginning to appear in boxes used in Europe. The pay-TV service providers in the USA, such as Comcast (News - Alert), Time Warner, Direct TV, Dish and the phone companies, who control set-top box installation, configuration, software updates, repair, refurbishment, retirement and resale service, should come together to make development and deployment of such set top boxes possible.

The consumers can play their part by requesting their service providers to provide set top boxes that comply with meet ENERGY STAR (News - Alert) Version 4.0 requirements.

“We’ve improved the efficiency of all sorts of electronics – from TVs to video game consoles. It’s just as possible to improve the efficiency of our DVRs and other pay TV boxes. But they’re not going to build a better mousetrap unless we, the consumers, demand it,” Horowitz noted.

Recently, Electronic Recyclers International (ERI), the nation's leading recycler of electronic waste, received Action Network's (BAN's) e-Stewards E-Waste Recycler Certification for its facility in Denver, Colorado. Along with organizations like Greenpeace USA, the Sierra Club, the Electronics TakeBack Coalition and 68 other environmental organizations, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) took part in the accredited third party certification program to certify ERI.

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Madhubanti Rudra is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell