Cable and satellite TV boxes seem to be a fairly innocuous part of a home, but the reality is that they are huge energy hogs and consumers are given very little information about how much energy the devices are using and what it's costing them.
An article in the LA Times reports that these boxes are now the second biggest energy users in many homes next to air conditioning. There are roughly 224 million of these boxes in use in America and together they consume as much energy as produced by four giant nuclear power plants, running 24 hours a day.
In Southern California, a typical cable box with digital recorder can consume up to 35 watts and costs $8 a month to run.
"It is a classic case of market failure," Andrew McAllister, a member of the California Energy Commission told the LA Times. "The consumers have zero information and zero control over the devices they get."
These vampires drain power even when they're turned off because of spinning hard drives, program guide updates and software downloads. The only way to avoid the power suck is to unplug them when not in use, but often consumers are reluctant to do that because turning them back on can be time consuming as updates download.
This issue is not exclusive to cable TV boxes. Video game consoles are another major power hog. A recent study found that the newest Xbox One and PS4 consoles use up to three times as much energy as their predecessors and video game consoles in the United States are projected to use more electricity annually than all the households in Houston, America’s fourth-largest city, in the near future.
The hope is that these types of electronics could benefit from energy efficient technology upgrades the way laptops have in recent years. The most crucial place to start is with better standby settings that put the devices into deep sleep, energy-sipping modes that could cut the energy costs for powering them down to $1 a month.
Eleven cable and satellite companies signed a voluntary deal last year to reduce power consumption of the boxes from 10% to 45% by 2017, but the deal doesn't require the devices to go down to a trickle when turned off and the agreement has no penalties for noncompliance.
If you're a cable subscriber thinking of ditching the service, this may inspire you, especially since there are much more efficient ways to watch TV shows and stream other media. An Apple TV for example, consumes about 2 watts when in use and only 0.20 watts when in sleep mode.