Dear EarthTalk: I need to replace my old TV. Can you tell me which of the latest models is the greenest? I was told that the flat-screen/plasmas are real energy hogs. What do you recommend?
-- Angela Montague, via e-mail
According to The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Smith, a 42-inch plasma TV set can draw more power than a large refrigerator, even if the TV is only used a few hours a day. This is partly because many newer models don’t turn off but go into “standby” mode so they can start up fast later with no warm-up period. “Powering a fancy TV and full-on entertainment system—with set-top boxes, game consoles, speakers, DVDs and digital video recorders—can add nearly $200 to a family's annual energy bill,” she adds.
Smith recommends green consumers consider the Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) models, which typically uses less energy than comparable plasma sets. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a 28-inch conventional cathode-ray tube (CRT) set uses about 100 watts of electricity. A 42-inch LCD set might consume twice that amount, while plasma could use five times as much, depending on the model and the programming. For the largest screen sizes (60 inches and up), projection TVs are the most energy efficient, clocking in at 150-200 watts—significantly less than the energy a plasma set would use.
“What scares us is that prices for plasma sets are dropping so fast that people are saying, why get a 42-inch plasma set when you can get a 60-inch or 64-inch one,” says Tom Reddoch of the non-profit Electric Power Research Institute. “They have no idea how much electricity these things consume.”
For its part, the industry is taking some steps to make its products more efficient, and to improve disclosure of energy usage. In June 2008 Sony pronounced its new 32-inch Bravia KDL-32JE1 LCD model “the world’s most energy efficient television.” Slated for sale in Japan in August 2008 for around $1,400, the new set utilizes fluorescent tubes to create higher levels of brightness with less energy consumption, but still delivers large resolution, a high contrast ratio and a wide viewing angle.
Beginning in November 2008, forward-thinking manufacturers will get a little boost from the U.S. government, which will start awarding the most energy efficient new TV sets “Energy Star” labels to help consumers identify greener choices. TVs bearing the Energy Star label must operate at least 30 percent more efficiently than standard models in both stand-by and active modes. Consumers can see which models qualify by visiting the televisions section of the EnergyStar.gov home electronics page. According to the EPA, if all TVs sold in the U.S. met Energy Star requirements, yearly energy savings would top $1 billion and greenhouse gas emissions would drop by the equivalent of taking a million cars off the road.
Of course, the greenest option of all (aside from getting out from in front of that tube and spending more time outdoors) is to keep or repair your existing CRT unit (a digital-to-analog converter will be needed after February 2009 when new signal specifications go into effect). Most CRT sets use less energy than any of the LCD or plasma models, and if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Buying a new TV, even a greener one, only generates more pollution in production and transport, and creates waste in junking the old model.
GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.