In 2010, television set-top boxes in the United States consumed approximately
27 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, equivalent to the annual output of nine average (500 MW) coal-fired power plants, according to recent research by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The researchers estimate that the amount of electricity required to operate the approximately 160 million set top boxes and costs households more than $3 billion each year and results in 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Extend those numbers to Canada, where television set top box usage is similar, and it means that Canadians likely spend about $250 to $300 million annually to power their set top boxes.

NRDC’s investigation and modeling of the energy consumption of pay-tv set-top boxes under business-as-usual and more energy-efficient scenarios revealed a startling fact: unless the industry deploys more energy efficient designs, the electric bill to power these devices will increase by a staggering $3.5 billion per year by 2020.

The NRDC says the average new cable high-definition personal video recorder (HD-PVR) consumes more than half the energy of an average new refrigerator and more than an average new flat-panel television.
Read the NRDC Report (.pdf file)
The report also found that much of the electricity used by these boxes was unnecessary. Fully two-thirds of the energy usage occurred when the set top boxes were turned off. This is because today’s set-top boxes operate at near full power even when the consumer is neither watching nor recording a show.

The result is American`s spend about $2 billion each year to power these boxes when they are not being actively used. Extend that to Canada and the number is likely close to $200 million annually to power set top boxes that are turned off.

NRDC says that better designed pay-tv set-top boxes could reduce the energy use of the installed base of boxes by 30 percent to 50 percent by 2020. The big opportunities include: a) shifting to whole-home solutions that include a main box connected to the primary TV with either TVs specially designed to access the video content stored on the main box or low-power thin client boxes that serve the same function, and b) having the boxes automatically power down to much lower power levels when not in use (e.g. in the middle of the night, or while users are at work).

What impact would better designed set top boxes have? The NRDC believes deployment of energy-saving technologies and practices in the U.S. has the potential by 2020 to save as much energy as is generated by seven large (500 MW) power plant.

Discuss set top power consumption in Digital Home’s Home Theatre Corner .