Cable and telco DVRs cost US consumers ~$1.84B annually due to ineffective power saving

Monday, August 20th, 2018
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Cable and Telco DVRs Cost US Consumers Approximately $1.84B Annually Due to Ineffective Power Saving Features

  • Sense announced an analysis of digital video recorders (DVRs) from cable and telco providers which shows that they consume nearly as much energy while idle as when your TV is on, and their energy saving modes are not effective

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Sense announced today that an analysis of digital video recorders (DVRs) from cable and telco providers shows that they consume nearly as much energy while idle as when your TV is on, and their energy saving modes are not effective. For instance, Comcast’s XFinity X1 DVR uses 26 watts when active and 24.5 watts in “energy saving” mode. With more than 84 million US households using set top boxes from communications providers, consumers are spending an extra $1.84B on their annual utility bills collectively due to the inefficient design of DVRs.

The energy consumed by cable DVRs across the country adds up to approximately 21 TWh in 2016, translating into 21 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually. Sense estimates that implementing true power saving mode with some small changes in cable DVRs could save more than 14 TWh annually and cut U.S. residential energy consumption by 1%, equivalent to eliminating almost 5 coal-fired power plants running around the clock. And, if the cable industry adopted energy saving techniques developed for mobile phones, at least a 10X savings would be possible and could save US consumers almost $3B annually.

Sense analyzed the Comcast Xfinity X1 DVR and discovered that its “energy saving” mode only reduces power consumption by 1-2 watts, a miniscule amount. Said Sense CEO Mike Phillips, “Consumers are being misled by Comcast’s claim that they provide an energy saving mode. Only 1-2 watts has negligible impact on both consumers’ utility bills and the environment.” The other top pay TV providers—Verizon, DirecTV and Time Warner—take a similar approach to their set-top box energy usage.

To provide context:

  • Cable DVRs typically consume 20-27 watts while in use or idle. By comparison, the PlayStation4 uses only 8.5 watts in energy saving mode. The iPhone consumes less than 1 watt while on and only 0.05 watts in sleep mode.
  • It would cost less than $2 to implement a power saving mode that could cut energy consumption for each DVR by 2/3rds. See detailed analysis on Sense’s blog.
  • The pay TV industry could eliminate 14 TWh in energy consumption across its 84.7 million U.S. households by implementing a true power saving mode—avoiding 14 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually.
  • If cable providers took a page from mobile phone designers’ playbooks and architected their systems with energy usage in mind, power consumption could be reduced by 90%. This change could reduce overall U.S. residential energy consumption by 1.3%, saving $2.5B annually. Just this one change to a common consumer electronics device is an example of the steps that manufacturers can take to get to the 24-26% CO2 reduction goals set at the 2015 Paris Climate Accords.
  • In a 2015 report, the Natural Resources Defense Council analyzed home idle load and recommended that device manufacturers design their devices to use less than 0.5 watts in low power mode. They also recommended that devices automatically switch to low power mode after extended periods of user inactivity, when appropriate. The pay TV providers have reached neither goal in their design of DVRs.
  • In 2012, the Set-top Box Voluntary Agreement set goals for increased energy efficiency in STPs. The industry has reported annually on their energy savings, but the goals can be updated to reflect greater efficiencies that are possible with mobile hardware components.
  • On The Interchange podcast, Green Tech Media interviewed a lawyer for the cable industry, Pierre Delforge from NRDC, Sense CEO Michael Phillips and Sense Hardware Lead Joe Bamberg.

“Consumers have little control over their choice of cable DVR, and most people assume that turning off the TV will lower their energy costs. Meanwhile, cable DVRs are always on, using far more energy than necessary. To add insult to injury, cable providers have been crowing about their energy efficiencies, which lag the rest of the high tech industry by a huge margin. The cable industry needs to step up and implement mobile-tested hardware to significantly lower the energy costs of their DVRs,” said Mike Phillips, CEO of Sense, an innovative company for smart, green homes.

What Can Consumers Do?

Consumers can take steps to reduce their own cable DVR’s energy usage:

  • Check that their cable or pay TV provider has swapped out their old DVR for an ENERGY STAR certified model.
  • Support efforts by consumer advocacy groups that advocate for greater energy savings by the pay TV and set-top box industry, as well as other makers of consumer electronics.
  • Stream content on their mobile devices, which deliver higher energy efficiencies.