Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

c.2013 New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON — The Energy Department, environmental groups and the companies that deliver television signals to 90 million homes announced an agreement on Monday to tame “vampires,” the term used for devices that use electricity even when they are turned off.

Such devices, which include set-top boxes like DVRs, as well as cable and satellite receivers, are never really “off.” Some draw almost as much current when they appear inactive as when they are running, experts say.

The agreement will save consumers more than $1 billion a year, both government and industry officials said.

The energy-saving fixes, in certain cases, are simple. To cut energy use, companies can make inexpensive software changes to the sleep mode on a set-top box. Or they can remove the DVR from the cable box, potentially providing programming via the web on demand. Tweaking DVR hard drives so they do not spin when not recording can reduce the device’s “vampire” rating by 5 to 7 watts.

Improvements in energy efficiency have been slow in coming. DVRs and other set-top boxes are rarely chosen for their energy use, giving suppliers little incentive to do better. And with set-top boxes, the buyer — generally a cable television provider like Comcast, a telecommunications company like Verizon or a satellite TV company — does not pay the electric bill and has little reason to care about the energy consumption.

Still, the way the industry is structured will make it easier to achieve savings in the future: The number of companies that manufacture set-top electronics and the number of service providers that buy them are limited.

Generally, a DVR device consumes half as much electricity as a standard refrigerator and freezer. Under an earlier industry initiative, set-top boxes supplied after Jan. 1 will use 15 percent less than was typical in 2009. With the latest agreement, by 2017 new ones will have cut consumption by an additional 20 percent.

The standard that takes effect Jan. 1 was organized by the industry itself last year in an attempt to stave off regulation. But the government and environmental groups pushed for even more, resulting in Monday’s agreement. The Energy Department, in exchange for the signal providers’ agreement, has dropped its plans to issue efficiency rules.

Groups that signed the agreement include the Natural Resources Defense Council, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the Appliance Standards Awareness Project and two industry trade groups, the Consumer Electronics Association and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.