Energy Inefficiency Report: Cable & DVR set-top boxes are Power Hogs

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When you think of the devices or appliances in your home that consume the most energy, you’re likely to think of your dishwasher, washer and dryer, or fridge. What you may not realize is that your TV’s set-top box is consuming an enormous amount of energy, even when you think it’s off.


Energy Consumption Comparison

Stats on Set-Top Box Energy Consumption

The fact is, there are 160 million set-top boxes in the United States alone, and together over a year they consume enough energy produced by 9 coal-fired power plants. That’s right – 9 coal power plants are running every year just so each household can watch a few hours of TV per day.

Expressed in other ways, that means:

  • 27 billion kilowatt hours of electricity
  • the equivalent energy consumption of the entire state of Maryland
  • 16 million metric tons of CO2 emissions
  • Equivalent of $3 billion in energy every year

These figures come from a recent report by the NRDC that intends to show how making set-top cable and DVR boxes more energy efficient can have a huge impact on our CO2 emissions.


Standby mode power consumption in Set-Top Boxes

Standby Power Pie Chart

As mentioned, one of the primary reasons the set-top boxes consume so much energy is because they are on standby mode all day, whether someone is watching TV or not. Standby mode has been coined by some to consume ‘Vampire power‘ or ‘Phantom power’ because of the way it uses energy when no one is around and with no results.

But your devices don’t have to consume this energy. There are specially designed “intelligent” power bars that are meant to cut down on the power consumption of devices like set-top boxes that consume vampire power (here is a smart power strip available at Amazon, but they are widely available at any home electronics store).


The future of set-top boxes

According to the NRDC’s research, if these set-top boxes and similar devices are not made to be more energy efficient in the near future, the cost to power the same devices could grow to $3.5 billion for the U.S. per year by 2020, which means your average cost to run a similar cable or DVR device will increase as well. However, new HD set-top boxes being tested right now in Europe by Sky Broadcasting are reaching new levels of energy efficiency which could translate to a 50% decrease in power consumption across the board by 2020.

The new devices have 3 modes:

  1. On: consumes 23 watts, when viewers are watching TV
  2. Light Sleep: consumes 13 watts, doesn’t output or record video, but wakes up very quickly
  3. Deep sleep: consumes less than 1 watt, wakes in 90 seconds

Already, we are seeing great technological breakthroughs that will drastically change the amount of energy consumed by our set-top boxes. But until we are all running devices that negate phantom power, it is certainly worthwhile to invest in an intelligent power bar – you’ll save on your energy bill, as well as your CO2 footprint.


Tips to Cut Down on Cable Box Energy Consumption

  • Pick up a smart power bar that cuts down on energy consumption in standby mode (this also works great with computer workstations)
  • Unplug if you’re leaving for the weekend or for a vacation
  • If you’re not watching the TV, be sure to turn your devices off!


  • Ian Andrew

    As the Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greener Ideal, Ian has been a driving force in environmental journalism and sustainable lifestyle advocacy since 2008. With over a decade of dedicated involvement in environmental matters, Ian has established himself as a respected expert in the field. Under his leadership, Greener Ideal has consistently delivered independent news and insightful content that empowers readers to engage with and understand pressing environmental issues.

    Ian’s expertise extends beyond editorial leadership; his hands-on experience in exploring and implementing sustainable practices equips him with practical knowledge that resonates with both industry professionals and eco-conscious audiences. This blend of direct involvement and editorial oversight has positioned Ian as a credible and authoritative voice in environmental journalism and sustainable living.

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