New Efficiency Rules For Cable Boxes Could Save Enough Energy To Power 600,000 Homes Per Year

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The U.S. Department of Energy on Monday announced efficiency standards for “set-top boxes” — more commonly known as cable or satellite boxes — that it says will ultimately save enough electricity each year to power 700,000 homes and avoid more than five million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

The new standards are “non-regulatory” which is a fancy term for “voluntary,” the DOE having reached an agreement with members of the the pay-for-TV industry, the consumer electronics industry, and energy efficiency advocates including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Under the new standards, companies have agreed to improve set-top box efficient by 10 to 45 percent, depending on box type, by 2017. DOE estimates that the reduced energy consumption will manifest itself in consumer savings of approximately $1 billion per year.

“This historic agreement promises to put $1 billion back in the pockets of U.S. consumers every year because the new set-top boxes will use less energy,” Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist at the NRDC, said in a statement. “We appreciate the industry’s renewed commitment toward making the devices that bring pay TV into 90 million-plus U.S. homes more efficient and look forward to working together to reduce their future energy use.”

Though there is no official regulatory framework for the new rules, the DOE announcement said that all types of boxes from pay-TV providers — including cable, satellite, and “telco” — will be subject to independent audits. The DOE will also reserve the right to test the boxes under the federal Energy Star verification process.

Horowitz took to his own blog on Monday to further explain why the rules were “voluntary” instead of mandatory:

Given that these devices are essentially part of a system, and the fact that a small group of companies control the purchase of all the boxes sold nationwide, efficiency advocates such as NRDC, the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, and the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) believed faster progress could be made through a meaningful voluntary agreement with the industry than through minimum efficiency regulations set by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) or state agencies like the California Energy Commission (CEC) … If industry fails to meet its commitments, we will ask the federal and state agencies to restart their proceedings to develop efficiency requirements for these products.