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Bye-Bye, Vampire Set-Tops: Pay-TV Boxes Will Suck Less Power in Deal to Save $1 Bil in Annual Energy Costs

Voluntary agreement that runs through 2017 applies to 90% of set-tops deployed by cable, satellite and telco TV providers

So-called “vampire” TV set-top boxes that devour more power than some refrigerators are on their way out — at least, most of them are.

Big cable and satellite TV providers and their manufacturing partners have agreed to curtail energy-hungry boxes for 90% of the set-tops they deploy, under a voluntary deal with the U.S. Department of Energy and others that is projected to eventually save American consumers at least $1 billion per year by 2017.

The environmental impact of electricity-sucking set-tops came to a head in 2011, when the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) published a study finding that one HD DVR together with one HD set-top use more energy per year than a 21-cubic-foot Energy Star-compliant refrigerator — with pay-TV set-tops overall costing U.S. consumers $3 billion per year.

Lobbyists for the cable biz and other providers responded with alarm to the NRDC report and pursued a voluntary agreement with the DOE in hopes of avoiding government-imposed regulations on set-top power consumption. Signatories to the agreement announced Monday include: pay-TV providers Comcast, DirecTV, Dish Network, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Verizon, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision Systems, Bright House Networks and CenturyLink; and manufacturers Cisco, Arris (which acquired Motorola’s set-top business from Google) and EchoStar Technologies.

“These energy-efficiency standards reflect a collaborative approach among the Energy Department, the pay-TV industry and energy efficiency groups — building on more than three decades of common-sense efficiency standards that are saving American families and businesses hundreds of billions of dollars,” DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz said in announcing the agreement.

The minimum set-top standards covered in the new agreement, which runs through 2017, were developed in a non-regulatory process among the pay-TV industry, the consumer-electronics biz and energy-efficiency advocates. According to the parties, the specs will boost set-top efficiency by 10% to 45% depending on device type within four years.

The agreement was reached by the DOE, the cable, telco and satellite TV providers, the Consumer Electronics Assn., the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn., and groups including the NRDC, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and the Appliance Standards Awareness Project.

Following the 2011 NRDC report, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) urged the pay-TV industry to address the issue. In a statement Monday, Feinstein said the agreement “demonstrates the television industry took this matter seriously, and I commend industry and efficiency advocates for agreeing to make 90% of all set-top boxes as efficient as today’s most energy-efficient boxes by 2017.”

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 by an independent auditor to ensure boxes are performing at the efficiency levels specified in the agreement. The Energy Department also retains authority to test set-tops under the Energy Star program.

According to the groups, the set-top box efficiency standards will eventually save enough electricity to power 700,000 homes per year and thereby cut down CO2 emissions by more than 5 million metric tons annually.

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