Cable Boxes and DVRs: Can Appliance Standards Help Tame These Hidden Energy Hogs?

You may be spending more to power your home’s cable box and DVR than your fridge. According to a recent report by the National Resources Defense Council detailing the amount of energy consumed by cable boxes, these devices can be a huge energy drain. Though overlooked in the past, the modern HD set-top box configuration consumes around 446 kilowatt-hours (kWh) a year -- more than a new ENERGY STAR fridge, which uses up to 415 kWh per year. But why are set-top boxes so terribly inefficient?

The answer is partly due to consumer demand. People expect their TV shows to turn on instantly with no boot up time, leading to the “always on” nature of cable-boxes. But another reason these machines are so inefficient is that the government has not set minimum efficiency standards for them.

Issued by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), appliance standards require minimum levels of energy efficiency for all versions of a product. Currently they cover everything from air conditioners and refrigerators to lamps and ceiling fans. These standards are different from the well-known ENERGY STAR program, which helps consumers recognize and choose the most efficient appliances. Manufacturing a product to meet ENERGY STAR standards is completely voluntary.

According to DOE, federal standards help protect consumers, who often don’t pay attention to the water and energy use of their appliances. This may be especially true for set-top boxes, which are sent by the cable companies with little opportunity for consumer choice.

DOE plans to include set-top boxes in future appliance standards regulations. In a proposal published earlier this month, DOE announced its intent to include set-top boxes as a regulated product under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which gives it the authority to regulate products consuming more than 100 kWh per year. Though this is just the first step in a long process, consumers can look forward to more efficient set-top boxes in the future. DOE is accepting comments on its proposal until July 15, 2011.