August 14, 2011

The Unassuming Energy Hog

(Thank you to MapaWatt for the picture)

Yeah, I was Surprised Too.

All your best efforts to reduce energy use in the home may just be a form of proverbial pissing in the wind.  One of the major culprits of energy use may be the one that you least suspect.  In an article published by the New York Times regarding energy use of cable boxes, we find that they are one of  the biggest energy consumers in the home.

These boxes are nearly always running at full power all day everyday which means they use about 3 billion dollars a year according to a study by the National Resources Defense Council.  Now, that number really doesn’t mean much without some kind of context but here is the jaw dropper.  They use more energy than a 21 cubic foot Energy Star refrigerator over the course of a year.  Combine all the boxes in the United States and that adds up to more energy than is consumed in the state of Maryland over the course of 12 months.  The saddest part of this whole saga is that about 66% of the energy is wasted because no one is watching or recording.  Given what the average American is going through, I would think they wouldn’t mind getting a slice of 2 billion dollars back that we are currently flushing down the toilet.

Here are the quotes that stand out from the article:

Cable companies say customers will not tolerate the time it takes to reboot the system once the system has been shut down or put to sleep.

Mr. Wilson recalled that when he was on the California Energy Commission, he asked box makers why the hard drives were on all the time, using so much power. The answer: “Nobody asked us to use less.”

Can you be lumped into the consumer that doesn’t have the patience to wait one minute to use 95% less energy over night when you are fast asleep and not watching TV.

Now that it is clear there is a problem with the status quo; the question turns to, ‘what can be done’?   Europe seems to have proper incentive to reduce power in this area because there energy costs about twice as much as power does in the United States.  They offer a deep sleep mode on their boxes which cuts energy consumption up to 95% when not being used.  The only downside is it might take a minute or two for the boxes to boot up.

If it takes a minute or two for your cable box to boot up in the morning or when you get home from work, why not find a way to utilize that minute?  For example, turn on the box and change out of your work clothes, or make a sandwhich.  In the morning your could start the toast for breakfast or get into I’m just spitballin’ here but there are a million ways to take advantage of the short time it takes to boot up the box.

Here’s what we can do now.  We can put pressure on cable box makers to not only comply with the somewhat lax energy efficient standards and put pressure on to include a deep sleep mode which can cut up to 95% of energy use.  We can put pressure on the cable companies to use settings that can drastically reduce energy consumption.  In a world powered by incentives, we have given these companies no incentive to change their (and our by compliance) ways.  Let’s give ’em one.

For too long these companies have been taking advantage of our ignorance on consumption in order to skirt spending more money on trying to help ease the burden of technology on our planet.

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