California Energy Commission rule to impact HDTV industry

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from PCWorld.com.

For the California Energy Commission, the voluntary guidelines of the Federal Energy Star program aren't enough to curb energy guzzling by HDTVs. In a unanimous vote, the CEC just introduced the nation's first state-mandated regulations for energy efficiency. The regulations will apply to televisions up to 58 inches in screen size.

The CEC regulations will affect all HDTVs sold at retail or over the Internet, according to Adam Gottlieb, a spokesman for the California Energy Commission, and will go into effect on January 1, 2011. The California rules were adopted despite some vehement industry opposition to them. Many in the industry—including the Consumer Electronics Association, the electronics company Panasonic, and the retail chain Best Buy—felt that the measures taken independently by the TV manufacturers, and by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy's Energy Star program, were sufficient to guide manufacturers on the path towards environmental awareness and compliance.

But the Energy Star guidelines alone weren't enough for California, notes Gottlieb. "Energy Star is a badge of honor for manufacturers. This is a mandatory standard."

In spite of all the fuss, it turns out that the CEC mandate is not especially stringent vis-à-vis what Energy Star has planned. In fact, by the time the first wave of CEC regulations enter into effect in 2011, Energy Star 4.0 will be in place. And since Energy Star 4.0 launches in May 2010, it's a safe bet that manufacturers will be introducing Energy Star 4.0 models into their lineups at the upcoming 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. In an increasingly competitive and commoditized world of HDTVs, manufacturers are eager to distinguish themselves—and Energy Star is one such distinguishing factor, for now.

Many TVs today meet the CEC standard

According to the CEC, nearly 1000 HDTV models on the market today already meet the Tier 1 standard for 2011, and some 300 meet the 2013 standard (Tier 2). Market research firm DisplaySearch echoes those results: According to its analysis, many popular HDTV models already meet the CEC's requirements for the year 2011, and some LED models—which have made a selling point of their energy efficiency—already meet the CEC's Tier 2 standard.

The only outliers in DisplaySearch's data for Tier 1 were 1080p plasma models—and plasma technology already had a reputation for being an energy hog; however, it's important to note that not all of the plasmas fell outside the Tier 1 range. Not surprisingly, Panasonic—the major manufacturer of plasma televisions—was recently touting how much more energy efficient its sets have become.

CEC vs. Energy Star

According to the CEC, the California regulations echo the EPA's Energy Star 4.0 standards for screen sizes up to 42 inches. Beyond that, "where Energy Star is a staggered step, this is a fixed formula based [on screen area] that is both technology neutral and performance based. The formula is based on Energy Star 3.0, but it goes beyond that," says Gottlieb.

[Read our review of 16 HDTV models.]

In short, the differences between the two are not dramatic—the CEC's requirements are ultimately not any more stringent than the Energy Star guidelines.

Today, the Energy Star 3.0 spec limits active power consumption for a 32-inch HDTV to 120 watts; the impending Energy Star 4.0 spec, which goes into effect in May 2010, drops that to 78W; and the spec for Energy Star 5.0 (due in May 2012) is 55W. For a 50-inch set, the current Energy Star 3.0 spec limits power consumption to 353W; for Energy Star 4, that drops to 153W; and for Energy Star 5.0, that drops to 108W.

The mandatory Tier 1 CEC spec for 2011 says a 32-inch HDTV's maximum power consumption must be no more than 116W for a 32-inch model; the Tier 2 spec for 2013 drops that to 75W—higher than the Energy Star 5.0 spec, which will be introduced six months earlier. For a 50-inch HDTV, the Tier 1 CEC spec will require the maximum power consumption to be at 245W; the Tier 2 CEC spec drops that to 153W.

California forges ahead

That California's regulations are mandatory, and not voluntary—like the Energy Star spec—appears to be the biggest distinction between the two, and appears to be the big sticking point for the industry. But California's mandate will reach much farther than the Golden State's borders.

Because the regulation will affect any retailer—physical or electronic—that sells TVs in California, the CEC's decision to impose these standards should have far-reaching impact on the HDTV market. It's conceivable that, for regulatory compliance and supply-chain efficiencies, chain and online stores will want to limit stock to models that comply with the California regulations.

While Best Buy did not directly address a question about how the California ruling could impact the products it offers, the company did say in a statement that, "...as appliance standards are considered at the federal level, we are working closely with the Department of Energy to actively look at the testing requirements and efficiency standards for televisions to minimize the impact to our supply chain that a state by state regulatory approach may have." The implication there is that California's state-based regulation will indeed impact how the company does business, and what products the company offers.

And while it's possible that big-box retailers (like a Best Buy) could carry nonconforming models outside of California, ultimately, the logical affect would be that California's move will only hasten HDTV manufacturers' existing energy efficiency efforts. Those efforts are in response to an increasingly green-aware world; according to a study by the Consumer Electronics Association, 80 percent of consumers plan for their next TV to be energy efficient.

Many in the industry, including the CEA senior VP of industry affairs, Jason Oxman, have posited that the CEC's measures will stifle innovation and consumer choice. However, the CEC's Gottlieb counters that "there's a great deal of fearmongering going on. There's no basis in fact for that."

New technologies like 3DTV are on the horizon, but manufacturers haven't indicated yet just how much more energy—if any—such TVs will require.

Also unclear is how the ruling will affect professional displays. In conversation, Gottlieb mentioned the increased use of HDTVs everywhere—not just in the home, but in airports, hotels, and shopping centers. However, many of those displays—which may be on for longer periods of time than a television in the home—are not actually HDTVs, but professional digital signage displays. Such displays often lack a TV tuner, but they have additional components for managing the flow of data.

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