Viewing figures set to soar

Within three years consumer electronic goods such as TVs and DVD players will be the biggest user of domestic electricity, says the Energy Saving Trust. They will overtake the traditionally high-consuming sectors of cold appliances and lighting.

In a report, the EST warns that new, more sophisticated electronic gadgets tend to use more electricity than those they replace.1 This contrasts with the trend for white goods such as washing machines and fridges that are becoming more efficient.

Wasteful energy use by appliances left in standby mode is growing as more products include the function, tempting users into not switching them off (ENDS Report 324, pp 24-26 ). Some products no longer have a manual off switch, meaning they can only be switched off at the wall socket.

The way in which products are used is also changing, sometimes with negative consequences for power use. For example, listening to digital radio stations through a TV uses more energy than a digital radio, and far more than a conventional radio.

Energy use by computers and printers in the home doubled between 2000 and 2006 and is expected to rise 30% between 2005 and 2020. Last year mobile phone numbers in the UK rose to 63 million. And whereas an old-fashioned cathode ray tube TV may have used 100 watts of power, the much larger flat screen models typically use three times as much.

The market for digital TVs and set-top boxes is also being driven by the switch from analogue to digital TV between 2008 and 2012. The number of set-top boxes, says the EST report, is set to rise from 13 million to over 80 million by 2020, pushing energy use by these products up 400%.

In May, the Environment Department (DEFRA) issued the first in a series of consultation papers on proposed energy use standards for appliances. The paper, produced by DEFRA’s market transformation programme, covers TVs, DVD players, set-top boxes and battery chargers.2Without new policies, energy use by these products is forecast to rise by 84% between 2007 and 2020 from 18.5 terawatt hours to 34TWh, increasing carbon emissions from two to 3.6 million tonnes.

With the "fastest practicable rate" of technological and market innovation, says the report, consumption could be limited to 20.3TWh. But a more realistic target, underpinned by a raft of "feasible" policy measures, would be to limit the increase to 22.4TWh in 2010 and 22.8TWh in 2020.

The paper proposes a number of "indicative" standards for appliance power use in various modes. For example, by 2014 basic terrestrial set-top boxes should on average use no more than 10.8 watts when in use and 1W in standby.

Policy proposals include:

  • Securing commitments by the end of 2007 from UK retailers, manufacturers and service providers to supply products meeting the standards.
  • Update government procurement requirements in line with the standards by the end of 2007.
  • Following consultation and review, publication of updated targets and indicative performance standards by 2008.
  • Agreement on EU-wide mandatory standards for external chargers by 2009, and for "all remaining important consumer electronics products" by 2011, as part of implementation of the energy-using products Directive.