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Efficient Set-Top Boxes ‘to Save $1.5 Bn’ – But NRDC Cries Foul

A consortium of 15 TV providers and set-top-box manufacturers including Comcast, DirecTV, Cisco and Motorola have announced a Set-Top Box Energy Conservation Agreement that they say will result in annual residential electricity savings of $1.5 billion – but the National Resources Defense Council has dismissed the announcement as little more than greenwash.

The centerpiece of the voluntary, five-year Set-Top Box Energy Conservation Agreement is an already-announced commitment, for least 90 percent of all new set-top boxes purchased and deployed after 2013 to meet the EPA Energy Star 3.0 efficiency levels. Based on market projections for set-top box deployments, this will result in residential electricity savings of $1.5 billion annually as the agreement is fully realized, the companies say.

The participating companies – including providers Dish Network, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Verizon, Charter, AT&T, Cablevision, Bright House Networks and CenturyLink, and manufacturers EchoStar Technologies and ARRIS, and together delivering services to more than 90 million American households – also committed to the following:

  • For immediate residential electricity savings, “light sleep” capabilities will be downloaded by cable operators to more than 10 million digital video recorders 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.
  • Energy efficient whole-home DVR solutions will be available as an alternative to multiple in-home DVRs for subscribers of satellite and some telco providers beginning in 2013.
  • An energy saving “deep sleep” mode for next generation cable set-top boxes will be field-tested and deployed if successful.

According to the EPA, which administers the Energy Star program, set-top boxes that are Energy Star-qualified are, on average, 45 percent more efficient than conventional models. The companies say their initiative will produce more energy savings overall, and five years earlier than originally anticipated by the US Department of Energy (DOE) in its most recent review of set-top box energy conservation issues. Prior to this agreement, 2018 was the earliest date that any DOE set-top box standards would have been implemented, according to the Consumer Electronics Association and National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

However, the NRDC has said that the announcement is “little more than a repackaging of the industry’s previous weak proposals, which will continue to waste billions of dollars worth of energy and drain consumers’ wallets.”

The 160 million or so set-top boxes that exist in 80 percent of US homes consume about $3 billion in electricity every year – the equivalent to the amount of electricity produced by nine power plants, according to the NRDC. Of that, the organization says $2 billion is wasted by idle set-top boxes that continue to suck up energy 24 hours a day, even when consumers aren’t watching television or recording shows.

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