The average home now has multiple televisions, the average household watches more than eight hours of TV a day (up from 12% just in the last decade) and those television sets use far more energy than they used to, thanks to the proliferation of flat-screen models, especially plasma screens. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the 275 million TVs in American account for a staggering 4% of electricity consumed. For individual households, an energy-hogging TV can use as much electricity as a refrigerator, and cost $200 a year to run.
In November, the federal government rolled out new Energy Star standards for televisions, upgrading decade-old standards, and identifying for consumers those models that are at least 30% more energy efficient than comparable sets on the market.
Savvy consumers know to look for the "Energy Star" label when buying major appliances, because doing so saves money on the ongoing operating expense. The government rating system is a reliable way to choose the more energy-efficient equipment. (The new TV standards account not only for the energy used while the set is running, but also how much it drains while "off" -- a phantom load. It's a little-known fact that major electronic devices drain energy while turned off. Those who can remember older model televisions will recall that there used to be a fizzle and fade-in while the picture came into being. Newer models eliminated that by remaining in a standby mode; that requires electricity.)
Now, California -- traditionally the U.S. leader in setting environmental regulations -- is poised to increase energy efficiency of television sets 50% by 2013, according to the New York Times. The Consumer Electronics Association opposes the rules, not surprisingly, the Times notes; what probably does come as a surprise is that the association says consumers can save 25% on TV-related electricity bills right now by adjusting brightness and contrast settings, which are "left at top levels by factories."
All this matters, of course, because the electricity consumed by televisions is produced by power plants, and about half of all electricity produced in the U.S. is produced by burning coal. That means air pollution in the form of smog (which triggers asthma and heart attacks), acid rain (which wrecks the otherwise pristine streams fishermen love) and greenhouse gases (which fuel global warming).
Until California's new rules go into effect (and the rest of the U.S. follows suit, as it typically does) the best one can do is look for the Energy Star label. Qualifying are 19 plasma models (most of them by Panasonic), 199 LCD models, and 11 "other", like a line of Samsung TVs.
If you plan on replacing an energy-hogging TV for a more efficient model, be sure to recycle the old one, since electronics are made with bits of hazardous metals and plastics that should not be buried in landfills or burned in waste incinerators. Samsung, Sony and LG are the only three companies offering free recycling of old televisions, according to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, but many local waste haulers sponsor periodic hazardous household waste drop-off days; you can plug in your zip code in the "Get Local Info" widget on The Daily Green's homepage to find recycling opportunities near you.
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