DTI looks at intervention to tackle rising TV screen energy use

Energy consumption by televisions could more than double by 2020 because of the switch to new widescreen display technologies, the DTI’s seminar on innovation and environmental regulation heard in April. Voluntary performance improvements by manufacturers could cut the increase by half.

The Government’s rush to embrace digital broadcasting technology led to concerns that it has been slow to respond to the impacts of the technology, especially the increase in energy consumption from millions of set-top boxes left on standby mode (ENDS Report 324, pp 24-26 ).

However, TV displays themselves appear to present an even greater challenge. Researchers at DEFRA’s market transformation programme have been studying the impact of widescreen television technologies. The programme aims to support sustainable consumption and production by encouraging competition and innovation in traded goods and services.

The project involved electronics manufacturers Sony, Panasonic and Philips, as well as European trade association EICTA.

A report was commissioned by the DTI as part of its review of the role of environmental regulation in encouraging business innovation (see previous article ).

The project found that by 2020 the number of televisions in the UK will reach 74 million, an average of 2.6 sets per household, up from 62 million now.

Researchers also predict a rapid change in display technology, away from cathode ray tubes (CRT), to large, widescreen TVs based on liquid crystal display (LCD), organic light emitting diode (OLED), field effect diode (FED) and plasma technologies.

Some 92% of televisions in the UK are currently CRTs. By 2010, CRTs will have fallen to 52% and by 2020 they will have been replaced entirely (see figure).

Researchers say that LCD televisions are likely to emerge as the main alternative, but FED and OLED technologies are tipped as long-term growth areas.

The new display technologies use far more power than traditional sets. While CRTs use around 300kWh per year, LCD and plasma TVs consume between 900-1,000kWh. OLED sets use around 700kWh per year and FEDs 500-600kWh.

The project calculates that by 2020, energy consumption of TVs could rise by 16TWh per year - equivalent to a 14% increase on last year’s total domestic energy consumption.

Researchers say this equates to almost 18 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Such an increase would make it even more difficult for the Government to get back on track for its domestic target to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The project studied ways to reduce the impact - although it confined itself to non-legislative measures focusing on encouraging technological innovation. These measures would save some 7TWh per year by 2020 - less than half the predicted increase.

One example of innovation in LCD screens is the introduction of energy-efficient LED backlighting to replace the current cold cathode fluorescent tube. The switch would end the use of mercury in current LCD displays.

The report says the industry would voluntarily commit to implement LED backlighting from 2007 to 2010 by when all LCD televisions would use the technology. This would reduce power consumption of a 36" LCD from 380W to 250W.

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