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California Looks To Regulate Energy-Sucking Televisions

January 28, 2009

While the state of California is waiting on authorization to force higher fuel economy in its cars, it has focused its attention on a near-future energy curb for television sets, Reuters reported.

California regulators are concerned about the growing number of larger televisions draining energy from the U.S. power grid and are now looking to implement energy-efficiency rules to curb their use.

The California Energy Commission said TVs account for 10 percent of home electric bills in the state.

The recent surge in popularity of larger, flat-screen televisions that require at least 40 percent more electricity than the old-style cathode ray tube, or CRT, sets may soon come under energy regulation, and the industry that makes them is likely to challenge this.

However, experts say converting all of California’s TVs to the proposed standards would save roughly 500 megawatts of energy, the amount generated by a large-scale power plant and enough electricity for more than 300,000 homes.

While the majority of the estimated 35 million sets in California homes today are CRTs, flat-panel models account for nearly 90 percent of the 4 million new TVs sold each year.

Higher-end plasma screens, which can gobble up three times more power than an average-size CRT, represent about 10 percent of the market.

The agency’s plan is part of California’s effort to cut heat-trapping greenhouse gas pollutants 28 percent by 2020.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was ordered by the Obama administration to reconsider a request by California to impose its own strict caps on carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles, as compliance with those limits also would yield higher fuel economy for cars.

Just as automakers have resisted California’s clean-car measure, the state’s proposed TV standard also has its share of critics.

Many in the consumer electronics industry view the plan as unnecessary, costly for manufacturers and consumers and at odds with a voluntary nationwide labeling program, called Energy Star, developed by the EPA.

Current estimates show that about a quarter of the flat-panel TVs currently on the market would fall short of the proposed state standards if they were put into effect today, according to industry officials.

Some TV makers are already reducing their products’ energy use, such as Panasonic’s new plasma screen technology that is expected to slash power consumption to one-third of its 2007 models while achieving the same brightness.

Those opposed to mandatory standards say these types of advances prove that sizable efficiency gains are being made without new regulations, suggesting that a voluntary, market-based approach is just as efficient.

“But those successes only disprove the industry’s contention that the standards are too onerous,” according to Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The newly proposed two-tier regulations would make it mandatory that all new TVs sold in California would have to consume about 30 percent less energy than current sets starting with the 2011 model year, and 50 percent less power starting with 2013 models.

Horowitz claims over 100 models from a wide range of manufacturers already meet the tier-two standard levels a full four years before the standard is proposed to go into effect.

Therefore, he suggests that making efficiency standards mandatory is the only way to ensure that all manufacturers comply with them.

The commission has had past successes in mandating lower energy use for numerous appliances over the years, starting with refrigerators three decades ago.

Energy Commission spokesman Adam Gottlieb said thirty years ago, refrigerators were sucking up 200 watts, and today they sip 40 watts.

“California is the most energy-efficient state in the nation, due in part to appliance standards,” he said.

Image Caption: Sharp Corporation displays their newest 65 inch LC-65 E77u LCD monitor during the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas on January 8, 2009. The 2009 CES opened to the public on Thursday and continues through the weekend. (UPI Photo/Tom Theobald)

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