November 22, 2005 12:01 PM PST

Energy hogs in your living room

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.

The holidays are approaching, and consumer electronics are likely to be a bestseller among gift-givers again this year.

But as people plug in their shiny new digital cameras, big-screen TVs, laptops and portable music players, what some may not realize is the growing chunk of their electric bill these devices are greedily consuming.

Overall, consumer electronics account for 15 percent to 20 percent of household electricity use today, up from 5 percent in 1980, according to figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental nonprofit organization. That makes high-tech toys the fastest-growing source of home electricity use, the NRDC said.

"We're bringing more and more of these products into our homes and using more and more energy to power them," EPA spokeswoman Denise Durrett said.

Predicted TV power consumption

TVs are the biggest energy beasts of the high-tech gadget world. Alone, they account for 4 percent of the nation's annual residential electricity consumption, NRDC said. That's roughly the same amount of energy used annually by all households in the state of New York, it added. Factor in peripherals--like DVD players, set-top boxes, game systems and TiVo machines--and TV-related energy consumption can shoot up to more than 10 percent of the average household's annual electric bill.

Plasma TVs in particular have become the home's equivalent of a gas-guzzling SUV, consuming two to three times more energy than other smaller types of TVs. Some models can suck up as much electricity each year as a refrigerator, the NRDC said.

With screen sizes growing and sales of power-intensive plasma and high-definition units on the rise, NRDC expects national energy use for TVs to increase by more than 50 percent by the end of the decade. The trend is also being fueled by the ever-growing number of TV sets in use across the country and by the fact that Americans are spending more time in front of them.

Among these factors, size is important. "This trend toward bigger TVs means we're going to eat more power," Chris Ambarian, an analyst at iSuppli, said.

Interestingly, liquid-crystal displays, which are generally more energy-efficient than cathode-ray tube displays when used in computer monitors, offer no advantage energy-wise when used in TVs, NRDC noted. "Once LCDs exceed the size of a typical computer display and get as large as 40 diagonal inches, the LCD technology has no consistent efficiency advantage," the group said in a report.

Energy-sapping adapters
TVs aren't the only energy-chugging gadgets in the home. Anything that comes with an external power source, such as an adapter or charger, can also bloat energy bills. With the proliferation of cell phones, laptops, handheld computers, digital cameras and digital music players, every person in the U.S. has an average of five external power adapters, the EPA said.

The problem is that most adapters are incredibly inefficient, with many current models utilizing only 30 to 60 percent of the electricity they process, according to the EPA. In addition, adapters will continue to consume a steady trickle of energy even when they're not in use--a problem that plagues many home electronics. "It's wasting electricity the whole time it's plugged in," Ambarian said.

Many consumer electronics products have the same characteristic. Even if you think they're off, TVs, desktop computers and almost any device with a microchip require some juice to keep their inner clocks ticking, maintain settings and help them power up quickly.

Cable and satellite set-top boxes, and digital video recorders such as TiVo are among the worst offenders in this regard, NRDC said. A digital video recorder can consume up to 350 kilowatt hours a year--or half as much energy as a refrigerator--said Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist at NRDC. "In general, if you feel heat, energy is being wasted," he said.

Correction: This story incorrectly named the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Page 1 | 2


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Our Congress
And a Republican comittee last month had recommended getting
rid entirely of the Energy Star program.
Posted by durango4 (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Our Congress
That sounds like the republicans. What's the point in saving energy or showing people that they can save energy with one device or another.
Posted by pmm6 (11 comments )
Link Flag
Stop spreading lies
And propaganda. Congress nor the republicans have done any such thing.
Posted by ballssalty (219 comments )
Link Flag
Congress please help me
Congress, I don't know how to select products, so you'll have to help me...

If energy efficiency was ever an issue for anyone, makers would start competing over it and advertising it. Instead, nobody cares if your radio consumes 30W of power of 6W since a kilo (yep 1000) watt hour costs 8 cents.
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Link Flag
STBs can be made which consume low power.
As a manufacturer of Set Top Boxes in Europe, my company, TVonics strives to keep the power consumption of our Digital TV recievers to be as low as possible. So worst case the power consumption of the box and the plug-top PSU (wall-wart) combined is 6.2watts. Standby is less still. This is in stark contrast to early deployed boxes in the UK which consumed 20+ watts. Worse still the early boxes were hopelessly slow compared to the fast responsive nature of later generation boxes.

How do you get the message across to the public though when they make their purchase decision. Their usual criteria is which box is the cheapest? Yes we could have procured a cheaper PSU adapter but it would have consumed another 1 or 2 watts. So another 50 cents to a dollar cost up for lower power could add another $5 at retail when you do the percentage mark-ups and sales tax etc.

The problem is when you add up the millions of boxes deployed you are talking 100's of megawatts when you account for multiple boxes in the home as well which is essential for Analog TV switch off.

So in the end every watt counts! It can be done and we try to do it without adding significant cost to the product. Also note that boxes which consume less power, run cooler and therefore tend to last longer which also helps the environment in terms of energy consumption in manufacture etc etc...

In the end it has to be a concerted effort between governments, retailers and manufacturers to get the message across to the public that they do have the choice if they want it to consume less power.

Paul Fellows, CEO TVonics Limited
Posted by paulfellows (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Consumer advocate organisations
Consumer advocate organisations, which in Europe at least are prolific, test a lot of equipment. Rarely I see total cost of ownership calculations shown.

The only notable exception here in The Netherlands are cars and washing machines: they do have energy consumption class rating information attached to the product in showrooms and stores.

I doubt if that does influence decisions in case of a car, which is more about image than anything else, but I'm sure that in case of a washing machine energy consumption does play a mayor part in the consumer's mind when making a purchase decision.

I think that labeling the energy consumption for any electrical device would certainly help to make consumers at least aware of the after-sales cost they have to pay.

And if I ever will buy a setop box, I'll look for your products ;-)
Posted by tennapel (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
US has energy consumption labels
On appliances. Washing machines, air conditioners, refrigerators, dryers, etc.
Posted by ballssalty (219 comments )
Link Flag
Energy Hogs
It should be pointed out that in many circumstances the use of electricity is almost 100% efficient. The wasted energy or electricity mentioned in your article fvrom the power pacts becomes heat, heat that is in your home. During the colder months this heat can be considered usefull, although as electric heat it is in general more expensive than gas or oil, but this is changing also.
Posted by TQUIN45 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I just got a Tivo clone from my cable TV provider. It not only
doesn't seem to have a sleep function but even it's hard drive runs
all the time, which is inexcusable.

I've measured it at 21 watts when it's not doing anything.
Posted by Fazookus (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Turn it off with a switch
If you can't afford $14* per year in power costs, then turn it off when you're not using it.

*Based on 8 cents per kW/H, which is $0.00008 per watt hour * 24 hours * 366 days * 20 watts
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Link Flag
Hidden Costs
Your calculation is selfish because there are hidden costs, the real cost involved in produce the energy is not fair for our planet and the pollution levels keep raising year after year. It's not about how much we pay for energy. We still burn oil to produce energy. Not all is lost because the solar energy is starting to take off and it could be the cleanest energy available right now.
Posted by (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Since our president, his cronies and family are so firmly entrenched in the oil industry, there is no republican incentive to save energy.
Posted by bobsaccount (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: Conspiracy
Since ALL politicians are entrenched in big business, including oil,
there's no incentive for any politician to advocate saving energy
except in an election year so they can say "See? I'm environmentally
Posted by nightveil (133 comments )
Link Flag
Maybe if Clinton kept his pants on he could have fixed it
Maybe if Clinton kept his pants on he could have fixed it.
Posted by lingsun (482 comments )
Link Flag
No way dude. My computer doesn't run on oil. As a matter of fact, it doesn't run on steam, wood, coal, water, sunlight, starlight, or reenergizing ecto-plasmatic rays either. It runs on electricity.
Posted by Mentor397 (73 comments )
Link Flag
Who cares?
Who cares? Am I going to look at the power consumption of a TV before I buy it? No way. If you can't afford the electricity, don't buy it. If you think buying it will destroy all life on planet earth then go live in a cave somewhere.
Posted by lingsun (482 comments )
Reply Link Flag
proud republican
I am a proud republican and I will burn anything that I can afford (oil,electricity). God gave the republicans the right to be energy inefficient. Shame on you treehugger to write an article like this.
Posted by ramarnath (18 comments )
Link Flag
How could you say that!!!!????
Outrage! I found your comment thoughtless. How could you say such a horrid thing? Think of all the animals and trees who have lifes of there own. Humans aren't better then any of them. You are blinded by you greed. I'm a public school student in 6th grade who studies energy renewable ways to get it. All people care about is money. It's so thick! And guess what? It's the next generation who has to deal with your stupidity. People like me! And animals too. There people who just happen not to be human. Trees? They give us the very air we breath! I am sorry if I have offened you in anyway, but I am outraged beyond words. I am a proud Democrat.
Posted by foxhound718 (3 comments )
Link Flag
why us?
Yeah. What a great idea! Let's just waste all the energy we can and let the next generation deal with our stupity! Fat Chance!!!! I can't belive it!!! I'm 12, so in 40 years there will be nothing left for us. You people are such energy hogs! I barely ever watch TV anyway! I read. What an amazing concept!
Posted by foxhound718 (3 comments )
Link Flag
No big deal.
Most "high-tech" stuff, does not require a lot of electricity. Sure, TV's take up the most. But charging your mp3 player, or charging your laptop does not require a lot. I believe all laptops are under 100W, a typical desktop is 400W. Electricity is cheap enough to not care, for now at least.
It's things like your dishwasher or oven that consume a lot.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by Roman12 (214 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Peak Oil!!! Everyone should CARE!!!
Life as we no it will change if we keep saying who cares. Peak Oil will mandate our attention in the way of rations. We will be knocked back to the stone age.
Posted by clintbrot (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yep. That's exatly what will happen if we're not careful. I'm 12. So guess what happens? The next generation has to deal with the stupity of energy wasters. Not a happy thought.
Posted by foxhound718 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.