Cut your home electricity bill by choosing efficiency and changing habits
You might not expect that an energy efficient TV would make much difference to your home energy bill. But with televisions getting bigger and bigger, and with often power-hungry plasma displays becoming increasingly popular, TVs now account for a sizable chunk of the typical American energy budget.
According to the US Department of Energy, there are nearly 300 million TVs currently in use in the US (more than one for every human being). They consume over 50 billion kWh of electricity each year, or 4% of all household electricity use. That’s enough electricity to power all the homes in the state of New York for a whole year, and results in over 50 million tons of CO2 emissions each year.
The good news is that increasingly stringent ENERGY STAR rules and other standards mean you can find new energy efficient TVs that use considerably less energy than an equivalent older-style LCD or Plasma TV of the same size – up to 30% less compared to older LCDs, and 3 times less compared to the early and very inefficient plasma displays. The bad news is that TVs keep getting bigger and bigger, and people who upgrade from an old 26″ CRT to a 52″ Plasma TV are actually adding a lot more screen real estate to their television, and with that, more power use.
Not only that, but if you use a Digital To Analog (DTA) converters so that an older analog television can handle the new digital cable format. These converters add to the power draw of your home entertainment system. Of course, there are new ENERGY STAR qualified units that use less.
Let’s look at the following topics to help you decide what kind of TV you should buy (or whether to upgrade at all!):
- Energy efficient TV tips
- Are LCD and Plasma TVs really the big energy users people say?
- Digital to analog converters
- Standards: ENERGY STAR, European Union, California
- Some manufacturers and models of energy efficient TV sets
Energy efficient TV tips
First of all, let’s start with the most obvious: turn the TV off! Let’s assume you have a 37″ LCD TV which users 176 watts when on. If you’re not watching it for ten minutes, you’ll save the same amount of energy by turning it off as is used by:
- A 100 watt light bulb running for 18 minutes
- A 13 watt CFL (compact fluorescent light) running for 2 hours and 15 minutes
- A string of LED Christmas lights for about 15 hours!
I know some people like to have the TV on in the background, so if something interesting or important catches their attention, they can run to the TV and watch it. If that’s the case for you, then I’d suggest leaving a smaller, more energy efficient TV on near where you’re normally ‘monitoring’ the monitor, rather than have a 60″ plasma screen on all the time so you can catch the latest traffic report!
As well, for some of the more energy efficient TV models coming on the market, you can dim the display so that, when you’re not fully engaged in watching the TV, it uses less energy. In some cases the monitor can be turned to black from the remote while sound continues.
I have to confess, we have only a small, 26″ LCD monitor, and we only use it to watch one or two DVDs per week (we don’t have cable or an antenna). So I’m probably not going to convince most people looking for an energy efficient TV to stop watching television. But if you’re concerned about the environment (which I assume may be one reason you are looking into buying an energy efficient TV) you might want to bear in mind the many other impacts of watching a lot of TV, over and above their energy use, such as:
- Total life cycle energy costs: Bigger TVs require more raw materials and energy to manufacture and ship, and require more effort and space to recycle or landfill
- Your ability to make a difference: North Americans spend hours each day watching TV – it doesn’t leave much time for volunteering!
- Television, in particular the rapid perspective switching of modern programming, has been shown to be detrimental to early childhood brain development.
Are LCD and Plasma TVs really the big energy users people say?
Unlike many household appliances which have evolved over the years to become ever more energy efficient, the most energy efficient TV in your house may well be the oldest one (assuming you have more than one unit, which many North Americans do). This is very different from, say, the energy efficiency of refrigerators, where the new fridge in your kitchen may use as little as a third as much electricity as the old beer fridge in your basement. Refrigerators, freezers, washers, dryers and dishwashers, have all become increasingly efficient because people view them as necessities and they want to cut their home energy costs by buying the most efficient model they can afford. As well, government agencies such as the DOE set minimum standards for such appliances, so efficiency is forced up each year as standards get more strict.
An energy efficient TV, on the other hand, is getting harder and harder to come by, because, while the more modern display types are becoming more efficient than older technologies, this improved efficiency is more than offset by people’s taste for bigger, brighter, and higher resolution televisions.
When we measure the efficiency of an energy efficient TV based on watts per square inch of display space, we will find that a modern LCD is more efficient than an old cathode ray tube display (older LCDs were less so, and older plasma displays were much less efficient but have definitely been catching up to LCD’s recently). But when you replace a 26″ screen with a 52″ HDTV screen, you’re using more square inches, which means you’ll burn more energy unless the new screen is much more efficient on a screen area basis as the old CRT.
In fact, it’s even worse than that. When you go from a 26″ conventional 4:3 aspect ratio screen to a 52″ HDTV with a 16:9 aspect ratio, you’re not just doubling the surface area, because the screen is measured on the diagonal. Instead, in that particular case you’re going from about 160 square inches of surface to 620, which is almost four times as much. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that as large screen TVs become cheaper and cheaper and bigger and bigger, TV energy consumption keeps going up.
Then there’s the large screen plasma TV, which, at least for the older models, is the least energy efficient TV around. Older plasma TVs use up to three times as much energy as LCD TVs. So combine their extra large size with their power hungry brightness and you have a recipe for soaring home electricity bills – if you spend your whole day in front of the telly, of course! Fortunately, plasma screens are becoming increasingly energy efficient, and have narrowed the gap substantially compared to LCD screens.
But as you’ll see below where I discuss particular energy efficient TV models, plasma really has come a long way, with some plasma TVs coming close to or matching the performance of LCD TVs of the same size. As a result, if you’re looking to buy a new energy efficient TV and you are trying to decide between LCD and plasma, you may wind up deciding based on the features and performance characteristics of the two technologies, rather than on energy efficiency.
Digital to Analog Converters
Because of the switch to all-digital broadcasting, many Americans have had to purchase a Digital to Analog (DTA) converter to allow their older analog television to connect to the digital cable network. These converters can add up to significant energy use, because most people leave them plugged in and turned on continuously, even when the TV is not in use. Depending on a typical viewer’s behavior and the product in question, the EPA has estimated that the conventional converters could consume more than 3 billion kWh a year, adding $270 million in annual electricity costs and adding up to 4 million tons of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere.
Fortunately, there are new ENERGY STAR models available that use almost no energy when the television is not on, and use less than conventional models while converting the signal. These DTA converter boxes use no more than 8 watts when on, and less than 1 watt in standby mode. They must also automatically power down after 4 hours of user inactivity (some may power down sooner – which is better for you!).
If everyone purchased an ENERGY STAR DTA converter rather than less efficient models, Americans could save about 13 billion kWh and $1 billion in electricity costs over the lifetime of the products – which would cut CO2 emissions equivalent to taking over 1 million cars off the road.
Standards: ENERGY STAR, European Union, California
Many government energy efficiency standards organizations have added, or are in the process of adding, stricter guidelines for energy efficient TV sets. There are two approaches: require all new televisions sold in a jurisdiction to meet efficiency standards (for both watts per unit of screen surface area, and watts standby power), or, as is typically the case with ENERGY STAR, offering the cachet of an ‘energy efficient TV’ label by allowing the most energy efficient TV models to get the label.
Personally, I take issue with the approach of providing ENERGY STAR labeling on the basis of watts consumption per unit of surface area. Why is it that we allow a massive screen, which results in huge power consumption, to get an ENERGY STAR rating, and a small TV that uses a quarter as much power but is somewhat less efficient per square inch, not to get the rating? Take, for example, an energy efficient TV such as the LG 60PS60, a 60-inch plasma set with an ENERGY STAR 3.0 rating, which is rated at 380 watts, compared to an older, less efficient 26-inch LCD display that might consume 120 watts. The 60-inch display gets the ENERGY STAR label, while the 26-inch display does not. Yet the smaller display consumes less than a third as much electricity as the larger one, and over a 10 year lifetime will save the typical US household almost $500 (based on the commonly used assumption of 5 hours use per day).
Consider this analogy: Imagine if ENERGY STAR were to rate the energy efficiency of cars and SUVs based on mileage over vehicle weight, for instance, gallons per hundred miles per ton of gross vehicle weight? A Smart Car gets 50 MPG and weighs 1,760 lb with one 155 lb occupant. Meanwhile, an H2 Hummer gets about 10-12 MPG, and weighs 6,754 lb with that same occupant. The Smart Car gets 4-5 times as much mileage out of a gallon of gas as a Hummer, but the Smart Car rating in this imaginary scenario would be 2.5, while that for the H2 would be 3.25. A consumer seeing these would of course know that the Smart Car gets better mileage, but the difference would seem much smaller, as expressed in terms of gas consumption over vehicle weight, than it actually is in terms of total gas consumption.
In any case, given that the standards we live with are based on consumption per unit of surface area, and that people are choosing larger and larger TV sets, we should at least understand what the new standards are.
European Union standards for television energy efficiency
The European Union has also proposed energy consumption labeling requirements and stricter energy efficiency standards, to help encourage consumers to focus on buying energy efficient TV sets. The new standards, as with the ENERGY STAR standards in the US and Canada, require TVs to consume less than 1 watt of electricity when on standby mode or switched off, and establish limits on electricity consumption per unit of surface area. The EU rules also require more stringent standards two years after the initial rules go into effect, with standby energy use to drop to 0.5 watts, and switched-off energy use to drop to 0.3 watts. Unfortunately, the new labeling requirements by the EU were rejected by the EU parliament in May 2009, requiring the commission responsible for drafting the regulations to work on a revised set of requirements.
EU rules details: The EU rules for energy efficient TV sets start with a distinction between sets and monitors, where a set includes a display, a receiver and optionally DVD or hard drive, while a monitor includes simply the display and video and audio input signals. They then set a base consumption per set or monitor, and add an amount per unit of screen surface area. For High Definition televisions, the per-unit-area amount in the initial standard only is 12% higher than for standard resolution:
|Unit type||Base power||Watts per dm2||Watts per sqin||Standby|
|Energy efficient TV set, initial||20||4.3224||4.8411||0.2789||0.3123||1|
|Energy efficient TV monitor, initial||15||4.3224||4.8411||0.2789||0.3123||1|
|Energy efficient TV set, 2 years later||16||3.4579||3.4579||0.2231||0.2231||0.3-0.5|
|Energy efficient TV monitor, 2 years later||12||3.4579||3.4579||0.2231||0.2231||0.3-0.5|
California standards for television energy efficiency
California announced in November 2009 that it would (A) ban the sale of some of the more inefficient plasma monitors, and (B) impose lower base and per unit area wattages on all remaining TVs. The new California standards for energy efficient TV sets take effect in 2011 and 2013 (increased standards in 2013). The standards are limited to televisions of 58 inches (1,400 square inches) or less. TV types are not being banned – meaning plasma displays of any size can still be sold – as long as they meet the new standards. Only particular inefficient models are being banned.
Even if you don’t live in California, these standards are likely to have an impact, as California, with a population of nearly 37 million, is a large market and manufacturers tend to adapt to the highest available standard. The standards for California are significantly higher than the EU standards (at least for screen area wattage, which is what matters most), and especially the 2013 standards will mark a major improvement in efficiency standards:
|Unit type||Base power||Watts per dm2||Watts per sqin||Standby|
|Energy efficient TV, 2011||32||3.1||3.1||0.2||0.2||1|
|Energy efficient TV, 2013||25||1.86||1.86||0.12||0.12||1|
How do the EU and California models compare? Let’s assume you have a 50 inch monitor only, with a 16:9 aspect ratio (32 x 18 inch screen). That means it has a surface area of 576 square inches or 37.2 dm2. The various standards would therefore set the maximum at:
- EU standard, initial: 20 + (37.2 * 4.3224) = 181 watts
- EU standard, two years later: 16 + (37.2 * 3.4579) = 145 watts
- California standard, 2011: 32 + (567 * 0.2) = 145 watts
- California standard, 2013: 25 + (567 * 0.12) = 93 watts
In other words, the final California standard for energy efficient TV monitors, which already has an approved implementation date of early 2013, is twice as energy efficient as the draft standard for the EU, which has yet to be adopted by the European Commission. Fortunately, the California standards are likely to determine much of what gets sold in Europe as well, so their stricter standards should help everywhere.
ENERGY STAR standards
The ENERGY STAR standards make a distinction between High Definition and non-HD TV sets. Non-HD TV sets have lower power standards (which makes sense, since non-HD TV sets tend to use less energy per square inch already). The ratings differ based on screen size:
- Under 680 square inches (roughly a 54″ TV monitor if a 16:9 widescreen display, or 53″ if a regular 4:3 display)
- 680 to 1045 square inches (roughly 53″ to 67″ for widescreen, 54″ to 65″ diagonal for regular)
- 1045 square inches and up
The standards are set in two tiers, with the first tier having taken effect in November 2008, while the second tier takes effect in September 2010. However, the September 2010 standards have not yet been set as of this writing (November 2009). Remember that ENERGY STAR sets standards based on the most efficient existing models; in other words, the intent at first drafting of a standard is typically that only the 25% of the most efficient models currently on the market would qualify. As more and more manufacturers build energy efficient TV sets to the new standard, ENERGY STAR standards are typically raised (which probably explains the TBD for the new standard).
The ENERGY STAR standards, shown in the same format as for the EU and California standards, work out to:
|Unit type||Base power||Watts per dm2||Watts per sqin||Standby|
|65″ and up||151||2.418||0.156||1|
Manufacturers and models of energy efficient TV sets
There are a great many LCD and plasma TV manufacturers on the market, and I don’t have the resources to investigate the energy efficiency of each model of each manufacturer. Unlike more utilitarian home appliances such as washers, refrigerators and dishwashers, government sites don’t seem to provide extensive databases of energy efficient TV models to search on. As well, a number of the manufacturers do not provide detailed power consumption information on the specifications of their models, even if they have ENERGY STAR qualified TV sets or monitors.
I believe in supporting manufacturers who not only make the most energy efficient TV sets around, but who are not afraid to tell you what their models’ energy consumption is. Therefore, I recommend you buy your energy efficient TV from a manufacturer who fully discloses their models’ energy use. Therefore, I recommend either Panasonic or LG Electronics energy efficient TV sets, for both LCD and plasma models. I researched over 100 models of energy efficient TV sets from more than a half dozen manufacturers, and only Panasonic and LG Electronics consistently provided detailed consumption information. Other manufacturers, such as Samsung, Hitachi, and Pioneer Electronics, had models that they claimed were ENERGY STAR qualifying, but the ENERGY STAR standards keep going up, and it’s not clear which version (1.0, 2.0, or the new and stricter 3.0 standard) they conform to. Samsung in particular appeared to do a particularly bad job of indicating energy performance, with their FAQ website including repeated inquiries from customers about the energy consumption of their TVs, and Samsung staff answering that they didn’t know. This is disappointing, considering that Samsung has one of the better reputations in terms of quality.
In the table below I have listed models from Panasonic and LG Electronics, and indicated total annual energy use assuming the set is on for 5 hours a day and is on standby mode for the remaining 19 hours a day. Note that for many of the LG models, I was forced to assume a standby energy use of 0.8 watts, since the specifications identified either “<1 watt” or (probably in error), “>1 watt”.
I have also included links, where available, to these products on Amazon.com (for US buyers only). You can hover your pointer over a link to see an image along with more detailed information, or just click on the link (or the hovering image) to see the product on Amazon.com, complete with technical specifications, pricing, and customer reviews.
Note: There are four LG models ending in “-CA” that are not real model numbers – instead, I added the “-CA” to indicate a discrepancy between the rated “On Mode Average Power Consumption” between the US and Canadian editions of the LG Electronics website. For example, the LG 32LH20 32 inch LCD display shows a power consumption of 84 watts on the US website, and 117 watts on the Canadian website. Visitors are advised to check with the retailer or online store what the actual power consumption is for these models.
|Manufacturer||Model||Screen Size (diagonal)||Display Type||On Mode Average Power Consumption||Standby||Power/year|
I suggest you print off this table if you’re going shopping at a store for an energy efficient TV in either LCD or plasma. Whether you buy an LG, Panasonic, or other brand of television, you will at least be able to compare the units in the store (if energy consumption information is available for the unit) with what some well documented energy efficient TV sets also use. In fact, you can even take a Kill A Watt or similar meter into the store with you, to figure out what each of the units actually uses, which may not be what the salesperson (or even the technical specs) may claim. See below for more on this
How much electricity does my TV use?
Whether you have an energy efficient TV – one of the newer LCD or newest plasma models – or an old CRT TV, it’s not hard to figure out how much electricity your TV uses. All you need is an electricity monitor – such as the Kill A Watt meter, which you can buy for as little as $20, and which you can often borrow from your local library. The Kill A Watt meter (or similar devices described on my Kill A Watt meters page) are an essential device for anyone serious about saving energy. One of these things literally pays for itself in energy savings within a year, if you use it the way I suggest (measure electricity usage and cut obvious waste). My family cut our electricity use to one sixth the average for our area, once we knew where our energy was getting used.
In any event, to measure how much electricity your TV uses, simply plug the Kill A Watt meter into a wall socket, plug the TV into the Kill A Watt meter, and switch the meter to the “Watts” mode. You’ll get a reading for when the TV is off but plugged in. Then turn on the TV and you’ll see a spike as the TV powers up. By switching channels, or playing a DVD movie with varying levels of brightness, you’ll be able to see how much electricity your TV uses in dark scenes and bright scenes. By taking an average you should have a feel for how your current TV compares to the new ENERGY STAR models I’ve listed above – just measure your screen size from top left to bottom right corner, and compare with energy efficient TVs of a similar size from the list.
Then you can take the Kill A Watt meter into your local electronics store to test their energy efficient TV sets, to see whether the salesperson’s claims hold up to scrutiny. (It’s not that I think electronics salespeople are dishonest, but most of them don’t have that good a grasp about energy efficiency and are likely to ad lib if you press them for an answer, rather than admit that they don’t know.) Remember to watch for both standby and operating mode power consumption. Standby shouldn’t matter if you buy an ENERGY STAR TV, but some older televisions used up to 50 watts on standby, which can add up to an extra $35-50 a year in electricity costs.
Small is beautiful
I know how much people love their home theater systems and want to recreate the movie theater experience in their own living room or recreation room, but I also believe it’s important, if the human species is to survive the 21st century and overcome the dire threat of climate change, that we show a willingness to make a few small sacrifices. That’s why I think its important for everyone to try to strike a balance between their entertainment needs and their energy budget. That means, first of all, that, where possible, we should watch less TV and devote more time to helping make the world a better place. Books are a great place to start. But it also means that we should be satisfied with a smaller energy efficient TV, and fewer TVs in our homes.
I spent a weekend this summer at a massive house in upstate New York that had at least seven television sets. This was during a home exchange some friends had arranged. There was a TV set in each of the three bedrooms, one in the living room, one in the lower living room, one in the rec room, and one in the kitchen. While I can only hope that the regular inhabitants of the house don’t have all the TVs on for five hours a day, I was still struck by how wasteful it is to even own that many televisions in a family of four. Some of the TVs were old and small (and so don’t use much power) while others were massive, about 5-10 years old, and probably real energy hogs. And of course each of them required energy to manufacture and ship, and will require energy to recycle or dispose of. Our planet doesn’t need this much electronic burden from a single household.
So buy yourself an energy efficient TV by all means. But go for a smaller one – they use less power – and watch it less often. Life has so much more to offer than the next soap, cartoon, or cop show. There’s a real world out there just waiting for you!