Conversion to Digital Television to Boost Home Energy Consumption (updated)

We wrote in 2007, "…cable subscribers who feed TV sets and VCRs directly with analog cable taps (at least 32 million HH) may have to use STBs [set-top boxes] from their cable companies. The elimination of analog cable signals could drive [another] spike in energy consumption." A 2011 NRDC report reveals that this has, unfortunately, come to pass:

More than 80 percent of U.S. homes subscribe to some form of pay television service. Transforming those signals into shows, movies, and sports on the screen currently depends on approximately 160 million set-top boxes…What we found was startling: In 2010, the electricity required to operate all U.S. set-top boxes was equal to the annual household electricity consumption of the entire state of Maryland, resulted in 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and cost households more than $3 billion…two-thirds of total energy consumption — or the equivalent annual energy output of six power plants (500 MW) — occurs when the boxes are not in use.

Few states recycle STBs.

More about energy, CO2e, and e-waste implications of DTV.


Original Feb 2007 post:

February 2009 is the deadline for the United states to convert to digital television (DTV). The end of analog television will force the millions of households (HH) who depend on over-the-air (OTA) signals and don't want to upgrade to digital TV sets to purchase digital-to-analog converters, also know as set-top boxes (STBs). The Federal government is already preparing to subsidize up to 34 million converters. (http://www.ntia.doc.gov/dtvcoupon/index.html)

At a 2W power consumption in sleep mode, these boxes could add a minimum of 1.6 gWh to the United States' daily energy consumption.*

In addition to the OTA STB issues, cable subscribers who feed TV sets and VCRs directly with analog cable taps (at least 32 million HH) may have to use STBs from their cable companies. The elimination of analog cable signals could drive a similar spike in energy consumption. The FCC is currently looking at this issue.

* (2009 update) The EPA's current estimate breaks down to 8 gWh day if conventional boxes are used. Click here for the EPA estimate and information on its Energy Star specification for DTV converters.