California Is at It Again!


Paul Drzaic
Society for Information Display

One of the unintended consequences of the rise of flat-panel televisions has been a sharp jump in the amount of electricity used to watch television. The biggest factor is the size: larger flat-panel screens have more area to light up compared to smaller CRT screens. Efficiency also plays a part. According to the California Energy Commission (CEC), on average, LCD televisions currently use about 17% more energy than CRTs on a unit-area basis, and plasma displays use over 50% more energy per unit area. The growth in sizes and in consumer demand has led California to estimate that about 10% of its residential electricity consumption (almost 9 GWh/year!) is tied to televisions or their peripherals.

The CEC is poised to adopt rules that would require new televisions sold within the state to dramatically reduce their energy consumption. Beginning January 1, 2011, new televisions sold in California can consume no more than 1 W in standby modes and must consume less than 32 W + 0.20 W x square inches of screen area. On January 1, 2013, the limits tighten to 32 W + 0.12 W x square inches of screen area. Screens 58 in. and larger will be exempt for a few more years, a temporary exemption designed to avoid negatively impacting the home-theater providers within the state, which typically deal with very large screens.

As you might expect, there has been much hue and cry about these standards. The Consumer Electronics Association, in particular, strongly condemns the rules, claiming that they will increase prices, cost jobs within the state, generate a black market for older technology, and constrain choices for consumers. On the other hand, several companies have come out strongly in favor of the new standards: PG&E (which has to provide energy for California), 3M (which manufactures energy-saving display films), and Vizio (a major flat-panel television retailer), all endorse them.

The CEC notes that numerous LCDs and a few televisions on the market already meet these standards (although currently the majority do not). Anyone paying attention to technology discussed in recent SID Symposia and publications knows that reduced power usage is an ongoing trend for LCDs and for plasma displays. Moreover, spokespeople for plasma displays promise that technology is being readied that will dramatically increase plasma-display efficiencies quite soon. So, it is not impossible for the industry to meet these goals, but a matter of choice.

My view is that as a whole the flat-panel industry can and should embrace these rules. Regulations like these do work – California electricity consumption per capita is half the U.S. national average, due to the past introduction of energy-efficiency standards in multiple other areas. All industry segments, including displays, need to be focusing on efficiency for sustainability. This kind of conservation is necessary to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the near future. Finally, let's be a little self-serving. Energy efficiency can provide good justification for the early replacement of inefficient televisions in a saturating market, and this is the direction that flat-panel R&D is taking us anyway. California, leading the way, could benefit us all. •