Last summer, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) made waves when it released a report showing how much energy is wasted by digital cable boxes and DVRs in America. The study found that cable boxes consume $3 billion in electricity per year in the United States — and that 66 percent of that power is wasted when no one is watching and shows are not being recorded.
Apparently the cable television industry was paying attention. Industry-leading multichannel video providers and device manufacturers that deliver service to more than 90 million American households recently announced the launch of an unprecedented Set-Top Box Energy Conservation Agreement [PDF] that will result in annual residential electricity savings of $1.5 billion or more when the commitment is fully realized.
Through the five year agreement, which goes into effect January 1, 2013, leading cable and satellite television providers promise that at least 90 percent of all new set-top boxes purchased and deployed after 2013 will meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Energy Star 3.0 efficiency levels. Effective immediately, “light sleep” capabilities will be downloaded by cable operators to more than 10 million digital video recorders (DVRs) that are already in homes. In 2013, telco providers will offer light sleep capabilities, and satellite providers will include an “automatic power down” feature in 90 percent of set-top-boxes purchased and deployed. “Deep sleep” functionality, something that’s already used in European cable boxes, will likely be available in next generation set-top boxes if field tests are successful.
The voluntary conservation agreement is unprecedented, and quite frankly, a pleasant surprise. Prior to this agreement, 2018 was the earliest date that any DOE set-top box standards would have been implemented. To create accountability and support transparency, the agreement’s terms include detailed processes for verification of set-top box performance in the field; annual public reporting on energy efficiency improvements; and posting of product power consumption information by each company for its customers.