California's Proposed Energy Efficiency Standard for Televisions

To provide energy for California's growing population, we have a choice: either build more power plants, or conserve more energy. Conserving energy turns out to be a lot cheaper and environmentally friendly than building new power plants. California realized this earlier than most US states, and enacted the first efficiency standards for applicances in the country in the 1970s. The federal government followed soon thereafter.

The federal government started out by setting mandatory standards for energy-intensive appliances like water heaters and air conditioners, but has not gotten around to televisions. In parallel with the mandatory standards, the federal government also has a set of voluntary standards called "Energy Star" which are tightened every few years to reflect progress in the state of the art in energy efficiency. This program does set voluntary standards for televisions.

More recently, California has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2020, which makes reducing power usage even more urgent. While voluntary standards have had the desired effect of increasing energy efficiency, it hasn't been fast enough to meet that 25% reduction goal. It's time to look at stronger, mandatory standards.

California established a mandatory minimum efficiency standard for televisions in 2006, but it only covered "standby" mode. Now, in 2009, they have proposed expanding that to cover normal operation. According to the LA Times, the California standard is the same as the Energy Star standard, except mandatory rather than voluntary, and delayed by three years. In other words, TV manufacturers have three years after the standard is set before they have to start meeting it. Because of this conservative approach, a thousand television models already meet the standards proposed for 2011. The commission estimates that each consumer in California will save $20/year as a result of the new standard. That doesn't sound like much, but it adds up to nearly a billion dollars a year for the whole state, and will save the state from having to build a new power plant.

So, how well is the proposal being received? Given that in 1991, the Los Angeles Times wrote

The state is ... leading the way into smart energy policy. The picture is impressive enough that California must take care not to quit while it's ahead. [California] uses less energy per capita now than it did in the mid-1970s, while the rest of the country uses more. Part of this is because the population grew faster than the state could build energy installations, but it owes much also to the California Energy Commission, which fought hard for strict energy efficiency standards for buildings and appliances years ago.
one might expect them to back the new proposal. Yet today they write
The commission's goals are laudable, but it hasn't shown why the industry should be force-marched to meet them. ... A more realistic approach would be to focus on the demand for electricity-hogging TVs, not the supply, which is already changing in response to the Energy Star guidelines. ... The consumer electronics industry is fiercely competitive and responsive to consumer demand. The commission should take advantage of those forces, rather than imposing mandates that it hasn't justified.

So where is the opposition to the standards coming from? Who is the LA Times channeling? It turns out that the LCD TV association is in favor of the proposed rules! The resistance appears to be coming from the Plasma TV Coalition, which fears that the new standard is moving too fast for plasma TVs to keep up.

So, how can we get the plasma TV manufacturers to agree to the new standards? As it turns out, Japan has them on board for a similar effort. Under the Japanese "Top Runner" program, the most efficient appliance sold in one year becomes the minimum standard for appliances sold three years later. In a sense, California's proposal to lag Energy Star requirements by three years echos this aspect of the Top Runner program. But the Japanese approach defines a separate category for plasma TVs. In other words, Japan is content to let plasma TVs lag behind LCD TVs in energy efficiency, as long as both continue to improve. Perhaps in some smoke-filled back room, California could get a few more plasma TV manufacturers to endorse the standard by providing this kind of relief, at least for the first few years.

Comparison of various standards

Here's a comparison of California's proposed standard, the new European standard, Energy Star, and Top Runner, roughly sorted by stringency. The variable S is screen size in square inches; the variable A is screen diagonal, in inches.

Standard EffectiveType Size Max Power (Watts)
EU Aug 2010 HD all 0.31 * A (in^2) + 20
EU Aug 2010 non-HD all 0.28 * A (in^2) + 20
Energy Star 3Nov 2008 HD 680-1045 in^20.24 * A (in^2) + 27
Top Runner Jan 2008?HD LCD all 5.4 * S - 34
EU Apr 2012 all all 0.22 * A (in^2) + 16
CA Tier 1 Jan 2011 all <1400 in^20.20 * A (in^2) + 32
Energy Star 3Nov 2008 non-HD all 0.12 * A (in^2) + 25
Energy Star 4May 2010 all >275 in^2 0.12 * A (in^2) + 25
CA Tier 2 Jan 2013 all <1400 in^20.12 * A (in^2) + 25
Energy Star 5May 2012 all 275-1068 in^20.084 * A (in^2) + 18

And here are the same standards, this time for a 49" LCD full HDTV (~1000 in^2):

Standard EffectiveMax Power (Watts)
EU Aug 2010 330
Energy Star 3Nov 2008 267
EU Apr 2012 236
CA Tier 1 Jan 2011 232
Top Runner Jan 2008?231
Energy Star 4May 2010 145
CA Tier 2 Jan 2013 145
Energy Star 5May 2012 102

(Top Runner values are based on screen diagonal rather than screen area. The Top Runner values were converted from kWh/year to watts by multiplying by 1000/365 to get watt-hours/day, then dividing by 4.5. This works out to multiplying by 0.61. Top Runner specifies sets are assumed on for 4.5 hours/day.)

It seems that the Top Runner and new European standards are not quite as strict as the proposed Californian ones. Also, the European and Energy Star 3 standards allow HDTV sets to use a little more power than standard sets for two years.

For further reading

Los Angeles Times on California and Energy Efficiency

California's current standard

California's Appliance Efficiency Regulations were established in 1976.

California's proposed standard

The USA's minimum energy efficiency standard

The USA's Energy Star energy efficiency program

The EU's new energy efficiency regulations for televisions

Japan's Top Runner energy efficiency program


Copyright 2009, Dan Kegel
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