By Scott Gates
Streamlining your home’s energy use can make a big impact on monthly electric bills, especially with rising fuel costs. But the devil is in the detail, and everyday energy wasters are sometimes easy to overlook.
One ever-present culprit lurks in your home right now. When combined with DVD players and video games consoles, television use makes up about 10 percent of an average household’s annual electric bill, according to Energy Star, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Depending on the technology behind the TV you’re watching, your monthly related costs can vary dramatically. Standard sets use a cathode ray tube, with those smaller than 40 inches drawing roughly 73 watts when turned on—close to what a 70-watt incandescent light bulb uses. An average flat-screen LCD television of the same size also requires 70 watts, while a similar flat-screen plasma TV can really suck some power, consuming an average 246 watts when on.
With more families opting on flat screen TVs these days, the choice between LCD and plasma can really make an impact, to almost startling levels on a national scale.
Currently, there are more than 275 million TVs in use across the country, with the average household tuning in 4.7 hours per day. It takes more than 50 billion kWh a year to keep those sets on, according to the EPA, meaning it costs Americans $5.2 billion to watch all of that TV.
Of the total electricity generated in a single year, a full 1.2 percent goes toward keeping televisions glowing. And if current buying trends continue, that number could climb to nearly 2 percent in a few years, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York City based environmental advocacy group.
The good news is that energy-efficient TVs—LCD, plasma and otherwise—are becoming available. Beginning this month, blue Energy Star labels will appear on all TVs that use less energy when turned on. Currently Energy Star TV labels only indicate how efficient a set is when it is switched off, in standby mode.
“Energy Star’s new specifications for televisions are turning the channel on energy guzzling sets, making them go the way of rabbit-ears and black and white broadcasts,” quips EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.
Energy Star estimates that if all of the TVs sold in the United States would meet the new requirements, energy saving could grow to $1 billion a year. Related greenhouse gas emissions, meanwhile would be reduced by the equivalent of taking about 1 million cars off the road.
If you’re not in the market for a new TV, you can still cut back on the electricity your old set uses by adjusting the picture settings. The brighter the screen, the more energy it needs. Also, the small stream of electricity a TV draws while in standby mode can be eliminated by plugging it into a power strip that can be switched off.
Check out our online TV energy use calculator
Previous Smart Choices article about big screen televisions
See Energy Star information about televisions
Big TVs—Big Enery Bills (pdf) from E Source
Sources: U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Energy Information Administration, Natural Resources Defense Council, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association
Scott Gates writes on technology and energy efficiency for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.