Controversy Over California's TV Energy Regulations

California Energy Commission logoProposed California Energy Commission (CEC) regulations to improve television set energy efficiency by 49% could mean significant changes to its consumer electronics market and possibly that of the United States as a whole. This activity comes at a time when the International Energy Agency is expressing concern about the energy/carbon implications of global television set ownership soaring past the two billion level.

The DTV era has ushered in a new generation of always on, large format displays. The LA Times reports that "During a peak TV-viewing time when most of the state's TV sets are on, such as the Super Bowl, they collectively suck up the equivalent of 40% of the power generated by the San Onofre nuclear power station when it's running full blast. Televisions account for about 10% of the average Californian's monthly household electricity bill."

California regulations can impact all products sold in the United States due to California's relative market size: its the most populous state and generates ~13% of the nation's GDP. It is not surprising that there is opposition,  focused through a group called Californians for Smarter Energy (CSE).

One widely-reported concern is that these regulation would effectively ban plasma TVs in California. CEC's comparison of 42" sets puts plasma at 271 watts compared to LCD's 203 watts. A chart appearing in the New York Times suggests an even bigger gap, with a 42" plasma at 275 watts compared to a 46" LCD at 180 watts. It is easy to see why plasma units would appear particularly vulnerable to these regulations. The CEC counters, "...the state is not banning any type of TV. Consumers have the freedom to choose any type and size of television that meets the efficiency standard." Also, the proposed regulations now exempt displays of 58" or larger, which will protect the large plasma displays sold into the home theater market.

One CSE member is the influential Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), which has published a study attributing negative impact on the assumption that Californians will purchase significant numbers of energy guzzlers out of state.

The CEA also raises the spector of inhibiting innovation: "New product developments such as 3D-HDTV and Internet-enabled TVs could be significantly impacted or delayed to market due to concerns about meeting the CEC’s arbitrary limits." Also, based on a recent email exchange with the CEC, it does appear that these regulations will apply to the professional-grade and specialty displays used by California's considerable media/entertainment industry. These are issues of interest for many Vertatique readers, I'll cover more in a future post.

The CEA has been active in other states. In what its website called a "CEA Victory" last year, "...the sponsor of the Arizona energy efficiency standards bill (House Bill 2766) agreed to remove the consumer audio and video product provisions contained in the legislation."

Update 2009.10.01
Plasma set manufacturers may already be making headway, Consumer Reports notes:

"The [plasma/LCD] gap is shrinking. Our latest tests showed a negligible difference overall in energy used by comparably sized LCD and plasma TVs. (Some of each type used more or less energy than the average sets. Energy costs in the Ratings are based on 8 hours a day turned on and 16 hours in standby at 11.4 cents per kilowatt hour, at our optimal picture-quality settings, not the energy-saving mode on some sets.)"

Consumer Reports's annual energy costs for recommended models range from $41 for the most efficient 42" plasma display to $80 for the hungriest 58" unit.