With an estimated 300 million installed televisions in the United States—almost one per person—it is clear that Americans love their televisions, and many of them are constantly seeking bigger and better models. The newest variety quickly entering the market is known as ultra high-definition (UHD) due to its superior picture quality, with 8 million or more pixels; sometimes these are called 4K TVs because the images are about 4,000 pixels wide, with four times as many pixels as a high-definition (HD) television. Unfortunately, our analysis shows current UHD models use on average about 30 percent more energy than HD models of the same size. As the shift to UHD televisions is now in its early stages, there is still time for manufacturers to incorporate more efficient designs and components into all new models and prevent much of this potential additional electricity use and resultant pollution.
Ecos Research was hired by the NRDC to analyze public databases of UHD television energy use and market share sales data, and perform power use measurements on 21 televisions representing a cross-section of 2014 and 2015 models. Assuming that all of America’s 300 million televisions were using the same amount of energy as today’s HD televisions, which is far less than their predecessors, what would happen if each of these sets larger than 36 inches was replaced by the latest-generation of UHD televisions? Would we undo some of the hard-fought television energy savings achieved over the past decade? Our analysis found the national impacts would include:
Policy and Program Recommendations
One of the bright spots of our analysis was the finding that the most efficient UHD TVs were just as efficient as their standard high definition counterparts on the market today. This does not mean that the most efficient UDH TVs will be the leading product choice for consumers. Ensuring the adoption of the most efficient technologies during the transition to UHD TV will be the challenge for consumers, industry and government. Only through engagement on all levels will we mitigate the negative consequences of increased energy use and cost of TV ownership.
Policymakers and government agencies need to act to ensure that our televisions do not waste electricity, leading to an increased need to burn polluting fossil fuels to generate it. A critical element is ensuring that the tests used to measure the energy use of new televisions are continually updated by the U.S. Department of Energy so that they capture the amount of consumption from such new developments as 4K video shot with HDR cameras. Our recommendations for action are:
- The Department of Energy (DOE) should update the federal television test method to better reflect conditions likely to exist in actual consumer use.
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should establish a centralized, online version of the EnergyGuide label with more up-to-date comparative information than is now on the mandatory TV labels, and should also provide 10-year lifetime operating cost information to help motivate buyers to choose more-efficient models.
- Utilities should design incentive programs to reward products at the most efficient level or, at the very least, at some percentage better than ENERGY STAR to ensure that rebates draw the market toward best practices.
- Manufacturers and retailers should provide more detailed guidance to consumers about how to operate televisions efficiently.