New Set-Top Box Energy Conservation Agreement to Result in $1 Billion in Energy Savings for Consumers

Jeffrey Swafford

To close out 2013 with a bang, energy efficiency stakeholders came together with industry groups to set non-regulatory energy efficiency requirements for pay-TV set-top boxes—a big energy user in the typical American household. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP), Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)® and National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) each signed the voluntary agreement that will result in significant energy savings for more than 90 million U.S. homes. According to NRDC, the agreement will cut the electricity use of approximately 230 million set-top boxes installed throughout the U.S. by 10 to 45 percent—saving consumers around $1 billion each year.


Ecova’s Research & Policy team first began investigating the energy use of set-top boxes in 2005. What we learned was startling: set-top boxes operate at near full power even when the consumer is neither watching nor recording a show. Since then, Ecova researchers have collaborated on a number of research and policy initiatives to work towards reducing the energy use of this household device. Most notably, Ecova worked with NRDC in 2011 to publish an in-depth study on the energy use of set-top boxes in over 60 U.S. households. We discovered that set-top boxes in the U.S. consumed approximately 27 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2010, the equivalent to the annual output of nine average (500 MW) coal-fired power plants. This study was highlighted by media outlets such as The New York Times and Grist, which sparked interest from policymakers and industry to take action in improving the energy use of these devices. Since then, Ecova has continued to support its clients on this important issue, and the set-top box industry has been working with efficiency advocacy groups to improve the energy use of their devices.

The energy conservation agreement announced in December, 2013 works to improve the energy efficiency of set-top boxes in several ways, starting January 1, 2014. First, at least 90% of the new boxes purchased annually by service providers will comply with maximum allowable energy use limits. These requirement levels vary based on the set-top box’s features. Second, the agreement requires the pay-TV industry to publicly report model-specific set-top box energy use and requires an annual audit of service providers to ensure boxes are performing at the efficiency levels specified in the agreement. The agreement also includes provisions for set-top box sleep features and energy efficient whole home solutions. To learn more, please see the agreement language.

Although this represents a significant win for energy savings, Ecova’s Research & Policy team will remain involved in assessing the energy use of future set-top boxes. New, important features will continue to hit the pay-TV market, which may affect the energy use of future devices. As we enjoy our favorite TV programs and films, we do not typically think of the energy use of the black box in our entertainment center. However, with this new agreement, we’ve taken the first step to enjoying our favorite content in energy-saving comfort.

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