[opendtv] News: Your Power Bill Is Standing By
- From: Craig Birkmaier <craig@xxxxxxxxx>
- To: OpenDTV Mail List <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Mon, 9 Oct 2006 09:59:17 -0400
Your Power Bill Is Standing By
David Serchuk 10.09.06, 6:00 AM ET
If someone asked you to burn 10% of your cash, it's doubtful you'd
comply. But this happens every month with your energy bill. The
culprit: the many electronic devices in your home that are always on,
even when you think they're off.
"Standby power can be 10% to 15% of the energy load of a state," says
Andrew Fanara, team leader for product specification development at
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "In California they went to
homes where everything was shut off, and even then they consumed 100
to 105 watts of standby power at all times."
"Miscellaneous" devices, a category of products the EPA didn't even
track 25 years ago, are to blame. Computers, digital video recorders,
power tools and chargers for cellphones--which drain even when not
charging--are all part of the problem. "Some of these adapters can
draw as much as five to 20 times more energy in standby mode that is
actually stored in the battery," says Fanara. "Most stay plugged in
24-7 for their entire lifetime."
Ironically, a big reason for the invention of standby mode was to
save energy by lessening consumption when these devices were not
being used. But now this drain accounts for 10% of home energy use,
up from 2% in 1980. It's the largest single category of electricity
consumption in American homes, the EPA says, with major appliances,
like dishwashers, second at 20%. This growth comes as big appliances
have become more frugal. Refrigerators, for example, use 490
kilowatt-hours of power annually, down from 1,800 in 1972.
Digital video recorders and cable/satellite converter boxes are among
the most profligate. These devices, known as "set-top boxes," draw a
constant 30 or more watts of power, says Noah Horowitz, a senior
scientist with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an
environmental advocacy group in San Francisco. By contrast,
refrigerators draw only 40 watts.
The problem, he says, is that these boxes don't ever shut off. "To
the extent there's an off button, all it does it dim the LED, which
is half a watt," he says. TVs, by contrast, are quite chincy, often
drawing less than four standby watts, though in-use wattage can
balloon to 240 watts for plasma sets.
Alan Meier, a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory (LBNL), a research center in Berkeley, Calif., says
set-top boxes are always on for two reasons: because they constantly
talk with satellite/cable companies to download program info and
because this makes it harder for pirates to steal signals.
Scientific-Atlanta, a division of Cisco Systems, has decreased
set-top power consumption by 22% says David Clark, director of
product strategy and management. Over the past two years, the company
has made a "spin down" feature for hard-disk boxes, where if the TV
has not been in use for several hours the disk rests.
Scientific-Atlanta did this to prolong box life, but found a side
"It helps us with wear and tear and energy consumption," says Clark.
"Sometimes doing green things doesn't mean you win, but it's been
very win-win." Coinciding with this, Scientific-Atlanta's set-top
sales climbed to 45% of the U.S. market from 40% five years ago,
taking share from Motorola, whose slice shrunk from 60% to 55%.
Motorola counters that last summer it instituted digital set-tops
that consume up to 33% less energy than analog boxes. Still, Motorola
boxes currently lack spin down, although a spokesman says that could
change next quarter.
The next great set-top standby debate is brewing and will culminate
in February 2009. That's when the government switches all TV signals
from analog to digital; as a result the 13% to 15% of American homes
that still use antennas will have to buy a box, called a digital
television adapter (DTA), to convert the digital signal.
In April 2005, California set standards requiring DTAs to use eight
watts on, one watt standby. The Consumer Electronics Association, an
electronics trade group, opposes this. "We are concerned about
regulating products that don't exist," says Doug Johnson, senior
director of technology policy at the CEA. Instead, the CEA supports
the EPA's Energy Star program, which is voluntary and market-driven.
(While Energy Star can't require compliance, companies that
participate meet efficiency guidelines to earn the star sticker.)
Steven Nadell, executive director of the nonprofit American Council
for an Energy Efficient Economy, counters that CEA member firms are
resistant to changing DTA designs already in place. "They're worried
to raise prices by a few dollars," he says.
John Taylor, vice president of government relations for LG
Electronics USA, a firm that will make DTAs, responds that the
company has created new technology for the DTAs and opposes
California's standards. The issue is national in scope, he says.
Computers are also a huge standby drain. Traditional computers
average 35.5 watts in standby, while laptops average 16.5 watts,
according to a 2005 survey conducted by Australia's Ministerial
Council on Energy. Screen savers actually make things worse, using
28% more power than normal, says the NRDC's Horowitz.
But not all the news is bad. Thanks to more efficient circuit
designs--created by firms like San Jose, Calif.-based Power
Integrations--cellphone chargers, for one, have grown less thirsty
over the past five years. Where they once drained two to five watts
indefinitely, many now use as little as half a watt. Here
environmentalists found an ally in the Bush administration. In June
2001 President Bush required the government to purchase appliances,
and chargers, that used the least standby power. At the time, the
White House estimated the U.S. could save from $1 billion to 2
billion in energy bills if standby settings used one watt or less.
The EPA estimates that there are 1 billion chargers in the U.S. and
predicts that number will grow. In January, Energy Star began a major
campaign to make chargers at least 35% more efficient. By doing this,
the EPA believes it can save more than 1 million tons of greenhouse
gas emissions, equal to that spewed by 150,000 cars.
Other large standby drainers include ink jet printers, which can use
from three to 20 watts, and mini-stereos, which can consume from one
to 25 watts. "You think you turned off the [stereo]," says LBNL's
Meier. "But when it's switched on, it only goes to 28 watts."
Commercial standby is also a considerable drain. In October 2005,
Australia released surveys showing that from 4% to 8% of all
commercial power was for standby. Computers consumed the most, using
49%; printers were a distant second, at 10%. Total use per employee
ranged from 200 to 500 kilowatt hours.
To combat this, Hewlett-Packard educated its employees about their
computer's low-power consumption modes. HP inspected 183,000
monitors, finding a third weren't optimized. Once they were reset,
the company saved 7.8 million kilowatt hours of power, equal to
$600,000 and 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide in 2005.
But wasn't this disruptive? William Olinger, product manager in
environmental strategies at HP, concedes there were some gripes. "We
had three complaints," he says.
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