I always believed that when you shut down an appliance, whether a computer or other electrical device, that it ceased to use power. However, this is not the case as I found out when reviewing my energy output from my two DirecTV receivers (one of which is an HD DVR box and the other is an HD receiver). So when I read the information from the NRDC (National Resource Defense Council), on how much energy these types of set-top boxes use, I was surprised. I was surprised mainly by the fact that these set-top boxes use more energy than a new 21 cubic foot refrigerator / freezer combo that we know runs continuously. This info set me to considering how a turned off unit can use more energy than one that is running continuously.
Among the interesting facts released by the NRDC is that set-top manufacturers like Cisco, Samsung, and Motorola are ambivalent to the fact that the devices they are producing use so much energy. The NRDC estimates that there are approximately 160 million TV set-top boxes in the U.S. requiring a minimum of nine coal fired power plants just to power these boxes. That means that US consumers are shelling out approximately $3 billion a year just to keep our set-top boxes running.
One disturbing issue considering the cost of energy is that cable and satellite companies require these set-top boxes to be on 24 x 7 for their convenience in updating software as needed. This means that even when we think the boxes are off, they are not off, but on standby — thus requiring that power be available to them. What is also surprising is that this stand-by mode requires the same amount of power, whether or not we are using the receiver.
While this should come as no surprise, some states, like California, have begun to address these issues in regards to other devices, like televisions in an effort to save energy. But to date, these same efforts have not targeted set-top boxes. Obviously I, for one, would like to see cable or satellite companies forced into a position where they are required to take responsibility for the energy that these set-top boxes use and find a way to reduce the power that they require. If they would do this, not only would it help consumers reduce their energy cost, but it would also help us, as a nation, to reduce the carbon footprint we are leaving on the planet for future generations.
Read the complete NRDC report (in .PDF format).