The need for a green display strategy

The need for a green display strategy

In case you have not heard, California will be regulating the energy that can be used by television sets after January 1, 2011. Despite the complaints of consumer electronics industry players, the California Energy Commission (CEC) voted last November to adopt a proposal for regulating the maximum energy consumption of television sets. With their unanimous vote, the commissioners are planning a path to a low-energy future for TVs. The CEC is now preparing the documents to pass to the Office of Administrative Law, which will check the regulation for compliance with State Codes. If this all goes as planned, the regulation will take effect on January 1st, 2011, when the maximum on-mode power consumption of all television sets smaller than 58 in (diagonal) sold in Calif. will be limited according to a formula calculating the power limit as a function of screen size (Tier 1). Two years later the upper power limits will be reduced further (Tier 2).

Many articles have been published on how this amendment to the Californian Appliance Efficiency Regulation either supports the environment or harms the local retail infrastructure. Attempting to separate facts from fiction, we will take a look at the time line, other energy guidelines and the effect on current television sets sold in the US.

Let's start with the Energy Star program, which the federal government instituted many years ago. Energy Star provides guidelines for television sets and has done so successfully for quite some time. In contrast to the CEC regulation, Energy Star is a marketing incentive program (sometimes augmented with tax credits for energy efficient appliances). The current TV standard 3.0 of will soon be replaced by version 4.0 and then 5.0.

What is the key driver for the California Energy Commission to take such drastic steps? While the newer flat panels TVs are more energy efficient than their older CRT cousins, the newer models are sold in much larger sizes. This is actually leading to more overall power consumption. According to CEC, TVs in Calif. are using around 10% of residential energy, or 2% of the gross electrical usage.

Other groups, like the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), claim this number is too high. It seems no accurate numbers are available to date, a situation that might be changing in the future with Internet-connected TVs. Overall, California fears that larger and larger TVs will push this number even higher, leading to energy supply issues in the not far-off future.

CEC calculates that the new regulation will account for energy savings of 6,515 GWh per year once all TVs have been replaced with compliant models. This number is not trivial by any means (even if the estimate is somewhat optimistic), as it almost equates to the yearly output of two 500-MW power plants. Pacific Gas and Electric was the driving force behind the CEC regulations, so one can surmise that eliminating the building of new power plants was a significant consideration in the decision.

The amendment regulates televisions, but computer monitors are specifically excluded from the regulation. We can expect future disputes on the inclusion of Internet devices. For example, does a 26-in desktop display with an embedded tuner and multi-sync PC capabilities count as an included TV or an excluded PC monitor?

The definition becomes even more debatable for Pro AV components, especially for any displays used outdoors. These displays in the 1000+nit range will definitely exceed the power consumption limits. Based on a response of the CEC, it expects all Pro AV outdoor and hospitality TVs to comply with its efficiency standards. In more detail, it expects outdoor TVs to incorporate light sensors that will be charged with a maximum of 300 lux to reduce backlight output and so fulfill the CEC requirements. This essentially means that light-sensing technology must be present in these displays - something not commonly done today.

CEC also confirms that all Pro AV and hospitality televisions must fulfill all standards as provided. In response to the question of additional electronic circuitry for enhanced functionality, the CEC expects all circuits to be designed to turn themselves off when not in use. Theoretically this should allow all manufacturers to include functionality in their design without exceeding the power limits, but many in Pro AV think some of the monitoring circuits (like RS-232) will need to be redesigned to let them have sleep and wake-up functions. Otherwise, their high off-state power levels will not meet CEC or Energy Star requirements.

While the Energy Star program pushes the envelope for future technologies by setting higher and higher hurdles, the CEC regulation may indeed become a hurdle for the introduction of new technologies like 3D TV, Internet TV, and proximity sensors. Some of these new technologies create new use models and consumer experiences, but will raise the energy consumption of the TVs to a certain degree. Additional electronics needed for this new functionality will make it more difficult to fulfill the energy requirements in general.

Technologies aimed at reducing the overall power consumption through sensing the presence of viewers in the room (and eventually shutting down if nobody is in the room) require additional electronics. Thus they boost energy consumption incrementally. While there was internal discussion at CEC about crediting such innovative designs, the lack of accepted test measurements led officials to leave this out of the current regulation.

One specific oddity of the CEC program is its limitation to TVs under a screen diagonal of 58 in, or more accurately, a screen area of less than 1,400 square inches. If the concern of the CEC is the higher energy use of larger and larger TVs, why are the largest ones exempt from this regulation? Will this push some new technology introductions to these larger, exempted TVs?

What does this all mean in the greater scheme of things? Will television sets disappear from the Californian markets as predicted by CEA? Some older models with lower energy efficiency may indeed exit the Calif. market faster than their manufacturers originally planned, but newer models at a higher price point will most likely make up for it. In addition, human nature may actually create a buying frenzy in late 2010 to snap up those non-complying TVs at bargain prices.

To illustrate the effect of the CEC regulation on TV products from today's perspective, consider the accompanying chart comparing the on-power rating of all Energy Star-rated TVs available in the USA with the future Energy Star requirements and the CEC regulation. Television sets that are not Energy Star rated are either older models or models using older technology, which will be replaced with newer technology in the near future.

First, Energy Star-rated LCD TVs with a diagonal up to 37 in are already capable of fulfilling the Tier 1 requirements of CEC today. Some of the larger TVs need further energy reductions if they want to stay in the Calif. market. It also becomes clear that PDP (plasma display panel) TVs have a tougher time in fulfilling the CEC regulation compared to LCDs. While it can be expected that PDP will be able to fulfill the Tier 1 requirements, more technology improvements will be needed to reach the Tier 2 level required in 2013.

The graph also shows that the CEC energy limits coincide nicely with Energy Star requirements. This basically makes the Energy Star 4.0 requirements a mandatory requirement in Calif. in 2013. California sees itself as a leader in this trend toward energy savings and expects other states to follow suit. It might even encourage the federal government to change the direction of Energy Star from a market incentive program to a mandatory, regulative approach.

During the recent ‘Green Display Expo 2009’ in Washington, DC, it was stated that there are more than 35 worldwide labeling options for manufacturers to consider, including, but not limited to, energy efficiency ratings.

With this multitude of labeling and rating options, TV product design is entering a new stage of complexity. The main risk for the TV manufacturer is not even the energy efficiency required by the CEC, but the complexity it potentially introduces. What if California is correct and other states follow its example by introducing their own versions of energy efficiency requirements? (We can't expect all of them to use the same regulation as California.) This would add significant complexity to the design and marketing efforts of all companies in consumer electronics.

Insight Media has discussed many of these issues in its recently released Green Display Report, which provides more detail on other aspects of environmental product design, such as energy use during manufacturing, use of resources and hazardous materials, and end-of-life issues related to specific display technologies. These aspects are not considered in the CEC regulation, which is strictly aimed at energy consumption, but are a considerable part of many of the other labeling programs.

Despite the best intentions of the CEC regulation, it is not clear the outcome will be saving energy and overall resources, reducing air pollution, and saving the consumer money. A more global strategy of addressing CE environmental issues, including energy consumption of TVs, may lead eventually to a more successful solution the CE manufacturers can live with.


Insight Media, Norwalk, Conn.,

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