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Consumer Electronics and Conserving Energy

What You Don't Know About Watts Can Cost You!

When you get your monthly electric bill, do you ever stop to consider how those kilowatt-hours (kWh) you pay for accumulates each month? More importantly, what are you doing to reduce your kWh? Have you started switching over to CFL or LED lighting? Installed programmable thermostats for heating and cooling? If so, you’re well on your way to being a ‘green’ consumer. Ah, but there’s more to be done!

This article has three objectives:

  • Create awareness of consumer electronics (CE) energy consumption in the home
  • Learn to identify and analyze energy consumption from all sources in your home
  • Offer effective solutions you can implement to conserve energy and save money

According to a recent study* commissioned by the Consumer Electronics Association, consumer electronics (CE) consumed about 147 TWh of electricity in U.S. homes in 2006. That’s 147 billion kilowatt-hours in one year! This represents about 11% of U.S. residential electricity consumption and 4% of total U.S. electrical consumption.

To put this into perspective, space cooling (15%), lighting (17%) and other (21%) were the top three categories of residential electricity consumption in 2006, while space heating (9%), refrigeration (8%), water heating (8%), clothes dryer (5%), freezer (3%) and cooking (2%) accounted for the remaining U.S. residential energy consumption.

Please note: The current study does not include the energy consumed by digital televisions (DTV) because the methodology to accurately test and measure the active mode power draw was not finalized in 2007. Douglas Johnson, Senior Director, Technology Policy & International Affairs for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), indicated that the DTV energy consumption data will be integrated into an updated version of this report, which he expects to be released and up on the CEA website before the end of 2008.

Energy Consumption by Consumer Electronics in U.S. Residences

Major Findings and Trends

  • Analog TVs (36%), PCs and monitors (21%), and set-top boxes, including cable, satellite, and stand-alone units (13%) accounted for 70% of total CE annual energy consumption in 2006. This is calculated based on the estimated hours of annual usage by power mode (active, standby/off, sleep and idle) multiplied by the residential stock or ‘installed base’ for each CE device in U.S. residences.

  • Desktop PCs, stand-alone PVRs, and analog televisions have the highest average unit electricity consumption (UEC), each consuming more than 200 kilowatt-hours annually. This represents what a single device (e.g. a desktop PC) consumes in energy on an annual basis.

  • The active mode (when your PC or TV is on) accounts for almost 70% of the total annual energy consumption (AEC). Off mode (more often referred to as Standby) accounts for 24% of total AEC. While the CEA is involved in a major effort to improve the electrical efficiency of CE devices in Off or Standby mode, every homeowners needs to know how to reduce and/or eliminate Off or Standby mode energy usage now.

  • Cable and Satellite set-top boxes with high definition (HD) and PVR capability have the greatest amount of Off Mode power draw as measured in watts. In fact, their power draw varies only slightly between their Active and Off / Standby modes. This occurs because the hard drive is always spinning and other circuitry including the power supply stays on until you physically unplug the unit.

  • The level of active hours per year has doubled for PCs in less than five years with monitors and analog TV also rising sharply in active mode usage. This, coupled with the grown in screen sizes for TVs (and remember, DTVs energy usage is not included in this study), and the ever increasing processing power demanded by users of video gaming systems and PCs all adds up to greater unit energy and annual energy consumption.

Energy Sleuthing

So, now you know the big picture, but how does your home stack up in terms of consumer electronics and other forms of electrical energy consumption? There are now affordable power meters available that will measure and calculate energy usage that also collect data for further analysis. See link to Watts Up? Meters.

What steps can you take now to reduce both active and standby mode energy use?

Buy power strips with an On/Off switch and install one in-line with every TV you have in your home. Make sure the power strip is accessible so that it is easy to get into the habit of switching it on or off. It is still best to turn the TV off with your remote first to put it on standby mode, then switching off the power strip. This eliminates the power surge when you turn the TV back on and is the principle reason these standby modes are there in the first place.

Power conditioners or power strips can also be used for home entertainment systems and home office personal computing systems. Completely shutting down a system also reduces the heat generated from each component, which in turn reduces power usage to cool your home. Again, it is wise to power off each component of a system before using a power strip to cut the power to all components. Be careful with PCs connected to routers, modems, servers, etc.

Cable and/or satellite set-top boxes with built-in DVR capability should be powered down using a power strip as well. Bear in mind that some home theater systems that use programmable remote controls with macro commands can be adversely affected by cutting the power to one or more components, particularly set-top boxes. Also, unplug any ‘wall-wart’ power supplies not in use for charging cell phones etc.

Analog and digital TVs consume power in direct proportion to their light output. Virtually all TVs of whatever design come from the factory in what video display calibrators call ‘torch mode’. These means that all the picture controls, especially contrast and backlight controls, are set to excessive levels to compensate for the very bright lighting in a typical big-box electronics store.

Using a different preset picture mode other than “Vivid” or simply turning down the contrast control will reduce energy consumption. Be advised that contrast, brightness, color, tint, color temperature and gamma settings on all TVs are very interactive. Write down the initial settings and never try to adjust advanced controls such as color temperature RGB gain and bias settings or go into the internal service mode of any TV.

Professional calibration of a TV will optimize its power usage, longevity and performance. To get the best picture quality possible from your TV, it must be carefully calibrated in your home based on your family’s viewing preferences and specific ambient lighting conditions to produce images with more accurate colors, shadow detail and depth that improves your viewing comfort and enjoyment.


*Energy Consumption by Consumer Electronics in U.S. Residences, prepared by Kurt W. Roth and Kurtis McKenney, TIAX LLC, 15 Acorn Park, Cambridge, MA.





Please contact me if you have any questions or comments.

Pete Nelsen