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Regulating TVs -- who wins, who loses?

The California Energy Commission unanimously approved a proposed regulation today capping the power consumption of televisions sold in California, starting in 2011. Although the Consumer Electronics Assn., which represents the world's largest TV makers, was apoplectic about the ruling, The Times' Marc Lifsher reports that one faction -- the LCD TV Assn. -- was all smiles. The reason? LCD sets are less power-hungry than plasma TVs. In other words, as so often happens when the government regulates products, it favors one technology over another -- and manufacturers know it, even if the regulators insist otherwise.

(We on the Times' editorial board had also urged the commission last month not to adopt the rules, warning that they could inhibit innovations that might do more for the environment in the long run.)

The real bite in the regulations won't come until 2013, when the caps are reduced and, potentially, the rules are extended to larger TVs. Representatives of the CEA struggled at a news conference this afternoon to cite specific examples of new, feature-laden TVs that couldn't meet the 2011 cut-off -- after a bit of research, they offered one 50-inch Samsung plasma set, although more examples are likely to be forthcoming soon. But they warned that few if any of today's models would meet the tougher limits.

Granted, this is an industry that innovates rapidly and has been particularly good in recent years at lowering power consumption. On the other hand, this is also an industry that regularly loads new features into its products to try to restore the profit margins that erode quickly in the brutal competition for buyers. At the moment, manufacturers are racing to present digital TVs that can present 3-D pictures, a task that requires either a high screen-refresh rate or polarized glass. The former drinks power, the latter drinks dollars. Manufacturers are also integrating more robust Internet capabilities into their sets, which also can demand more power.

The CEA fears that the new regulations will kill that kind of innovation and feature-expansion, as well as blocking new technologies that, like plasma and LCD, enter the market as relatively inefficient users of power only to become significantly better at managing their electricity use as they mature. It's certainly true that the rules would hold technologies off the market until they're efficient enough to meet the new standards; the question is whether manufacturers would be willing to develop generation after generation of products they can't sell just to get to that point.

One other caveat: California's new rules may have little effect on the market if no other state follows California's lead. In that case, the main losers would be California retailers, who wouldn't be able to offer as full a selection of products as online merchants in other states.

The energy commission insisted that the regulations would benefit consumers because the new TVs they buy will use less power -- an average of $30 per year. That seems overstated, however, because it ignores the improvements the industry has been making on its own. And even if $30 is the right number, that's chicken feed compared with the higher prices shoppers may have to pay to get a more efficient set with the performance they want.

The commission didn't seem to recognize that not all TVs are created equal. Just because consumers can find a more efficient model that's the same size as a power-hungry TV they like, that doesn't mean they can find one with the same picture quality in the same price range. Of course, exceptional TV picture quality isn't a birthright, and conserving energy is good for public health and the environment. But the commission asserted that its rules would be all gain, no pain, and that's a quixotic view of the market, to put it kindly.

-- Jon Healey


Comments () | Archives (10)

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I'd like to get rid of TV's altogether.

Dan Redmond

How about some actual consumption numbers for the new regulations? This would allow owners of LCD's and Plasmas to see where there current t.v.'s actually rate.

Jon Healey

Dan -- Alas, the final version of the regulations isn't available yet. But you can see the proposed rules here -- http://bit.ly/29lhUW -- and turn to page 12 for the limits. They supposedly were adopted as proposed. Current TVs aren't covered -- the new rules apply only to models sold after Jan. 1, 2011 -- but if you want to see if yours complies, you can look at the list provided by the CEC: http://bit.ly/11iYCr

Theodor Iacob

Here‎ ‎is‎ ‎the‎ ‎‎(‎hopefully‎ ‎objective‎)‎‎ ‎opinion‎ ‎of‎ ‎an‎ ‎engineer‎ ‎who‎ ‎works‎ ‎in‎ ‎this‎ ‎field‎.‎‎ ‎If‎ ‎these‎ ‎rules‎ ‎are‎ ‎not‎ ‎mandated‎,‎‎ ‎manufacturers‎ ‎will‎ ‎spend‎ ‎very‎ ‎little‎ ‎effort‎ ‎to‎ ‎design‎ ‎better‎ ‎sets‎.‎‎ ‎It‎ ‎takes‎ ‎a‎ ‎significant‎ ‎engineering‎ ‎effort‎ ‎to‎ ‎design‎ ‎a‎ ‎TV‎ ‎that‎ ‎has‎ ‎good‎ ‎response‎ ‎to‎ ‎ambient‎ ‎light‎,‎‎ ‎for‎ ‎example‎.‎‎ ‎Almost‎ ‎all‎ ‎TV‎’‎s‎ ‎I‎ ‎tested‎ ‎could‎ ‎not‎ ‎adapt‎ ‎their‎ ‎brightness‎ ‎to‎ ‎the‎ ‎ambient‎ ‎light‎ ‎because‎ ‎their‎ ‎calibration‎ ‎was‎ ‎not‎ ‎correct‎ ‎or‎ ‎stable‎ ‎in‎ ‎time‎.‎‎ ‎If‎ ‎I‎ ‎would‎ ‎turn‎ ‎the‎ ‎feature‎ ‎on‎,‎‎ ‎than‎ ‎the‎ ‎brightness‎ ‎would‎ ‎be‎ ‎OK‎ ‎during‎ ‎the‎ ‎day‎,‎‎ ‎but‎ ‎incorrect‎ ‎during‎ ‎the‎ ‎night‎ ‎when‎ ‎all‎ ‎lights‎ ‎are‎ ‎off‎.‎

There‎ ‎is‎ ‎a‎ ‎need‎ ‎for‎ ‎well‎ ‎designed‎ ‎standards‎ ‎because‎ ‎the‎ ‎average‎ ‎customer‎ ‎has‎ ‎no‎ ‎clue‎ ‎what‎‎ ‎‎“‎watts‎”‎‎ ‎mean‎ ‎when‎ ‎he‎ ‎buys‎ ‎a‎ ‎TV‎.‎

I‎ ‎have‎ ‎seen‎ ‎TVs‎ ‎that‎ ‎consume‎ ‎‎8‎‎0‎W‎ ‎in‎ ‎standby‎ ‎doing‎ ‎NOTHING‎ ‎except‎ ‎waiting‎ ‎for‎ ‎the‎ ‎remote‎ ‎control‎.‎‎ ‎That‎ ‎is‎ ‎called‎ ‎careless‎ ‎design‎.‎‎ ‎Why‎ ‎it‎ ‎happens‎?‎‎ ‎‎-‎‎-‎‎ ‎because‎ ‎the‎ ‎designer‎ ‎did‎ ‎not‎ ‎bother‎ ‎to‎ ‎turn‎ ‎off‎ ‎all‎ ‎the‎ ‎circuits‎ ‎when‎ ‎you‎ ‎turn‎ ‎off‎ ‎the‎ ‎TV‎.‎‎ ‎He‎ ‎was‎ ‎in‎ ‎a‎ ‎hurry‎ ‎to‎ ‎finish‎ ‎his‎ ‎design‎.‎‎ ‎And‎ ‎there‎ ‎was‎ ‎nobody‎ ‎checking‎ ‎after‎ ‎him‎.‎

These‎ ‎new‎ ‎regulations‎ ‎are‎ ‎well‎ ‎overdue‎.‎‎ ‎They‎ ‎will‎ ‎actually‎ ‎help‎ ‎innovation‎ ‎because‎ ‎designers‎ ‎will‎ ‎think‎ ‎twice‎ ‎before‎ ‎choosing‎ ‎an‎ ‎inefficient‎ ‎power‎ ‎supply‎ ‎that‎ ‎just‎ ‎heats‎ ‎up‎ ‎the‎ ‎whole‎ ‎set‎.‎

There‎ ‎is‎ ‎however‎ ‎one‎ ‎disadvantage‎ ‎to‎ ‎less‎ ‎power‎ ‎hungry‎ ‎TVs‎ ‎‎–‎‎ ‎you‎ ‎will‎ ‎need‎ ‎to‎ ‎heat‎ ‎up‎ ‎more‎ ‎the‎ ‎room‎ ‎during‎ ‎the‎ ‎winter‎.‎‎ ‎But‎ ‎during‎ ‎the‎ ‎summer‎…‎
Did‎ ‎you‎ ‎know‎ ‎that‎ ‎most‎ ‎TVs‎ ‎get‎ ‎defective‎ ‎during‎ ‎the‎ ‎hot‎ ‎summer‎ ‎days‎?‎‎ ‎Ask‎ ‎any‎ ‎TV‎ ‎repair‎ ‎shop‎.‎‎ ‎Now‎,‎‎ ‎if‎ ‎the‎ ‎TV‎ ‎would‎ ‎consume‎ ‎less‎ ‎power‎,‎‎ ‎it‎ ‎would‎ ‎not‎ ‎heat‎ ‎up‎ ‎that‎ ‎much‎,‎‎ ‎and‎ ‎is‎ ‎very‎ ‎likely‎ ‎that‎ ‎will‎ ‎last‎ ‎longer‎.‎‎ ‎I‎ ‎know‎ ‎cases‎ ‎where‎ ‎the‎ ‎user‎ ‎had‎ ‎to‎ ‎place‎ ‎a‎ ‎fan‎ ‎in‎ ‎the‎ ‎back‎ ‎of‎ ‎the‎ ‎TV‎ ‎because‎ ‎they‎ ‎would‎ ‎overheat‎ ‎during‎ ‎those‎ ‎hot‎ ‎days‎ ‎and‎ ‎the‎ ‎picture‎ ‎would‎ ‎simply‎ ‎go‎ ‎away‎.‎

Don‎’‎t‎ ‎worry‎;‎‎ ‎other‎ ‎states‎ ‎will‎ ‎follow‎ ‎California‎,‎‎ ‎as‎ ‎they‎ ‎did‎ ‎with‎ ‎so‎ ‎many‎ ‎other‎ ‎energy‎ ‎efficiency‎ ‎and‎ ‎pollution‎ ‎control‎ ‎regulations‎.‎

And‎ ‎lastly‎,‎‎ ‎the‎ ‎plasma‎ ‎guys‎,‎‎ ‎if‎ ‎they‎ ‎want‎ ‎to‎ ‎stay‎ ‎in‎ ‎business‎,‎‎ ‎they‎ ‎will‎ ‎have‎ ‎to‎ ‎go‎ ‎back‎ ‎to‎ ‎their‎ ‎drawing‎ ‎boards‎ ‎and‎ ‎cut‎ ‎the‎ ‎power‎.‎‎ ‎If‎ ‎they‎ ‎can‎’‎t‎,‎‎ ‎so‎ ‎be‎ ‎it‎.‎‎ ‎They‎ ‎can‎ ‎very‎ ‎well‎ ‎go‎ ‎the‎ ‎same‎ ‎path‎ ‎with‎ ‎the‎ ‎CRTs‎.‎‎ ‎Is‎ ‎anybody‎ ‎still‎ ‎looking‎ ‎for‎ ‎CRTs‎?‎‎ ‎And‎ ‎even‎ ‎before‎ ‎this‎ ‎regulation‎ ‎came‎ ‎into‎ ‎effect‎,‎‎ ‎they‎ ‎were‎ ‎loosing‎ ‎ground‎ ‎big‎ ‎time‎.‎‎ ‎The‎ ‎plasmas‎ ‎are‎ ‎only‎ ‎a‎ ‎small‎ ‎fraction‎ ‎of‎ ‎all‎ ‎TVs‎ ‎sold‎ ‎now‎.‎

Regulations‎ ‎are‎ ‎good‎ ‎if‎ ‎they‎ ‎are‎ ‎well‎ ‎designed‎ ‎by‎ ‎smart‎ ‎people‎.‎‎ ‎The‎ ‎public‎ ‎and‎ ‎the‎ ‎manufacturers‎ ‎had‎ ‎all‎ ‎the‎ ‎time‎ ‎to‎ ‎give‎ ‎their‎ ‎inputs‎ ‎to‎ ‎change‎ ‎the‎ ‎regulations‎.‎‎ ‎They‎ ‎succeeded‎ ‎in‎ ‎just‎ ‎a‎ ‎few‎ ‎of‎ ‎their‎ ‎requests‎ ‎because‎ ‎they‎ ‎simply‎ ‎had‎ ‎no‎ ‎documented‎ ‎arguments‎.‎

peter dublin

1. TAXATION is better for everyone, if energy really needs to be saved.
TV set taxation based on energy efficiency - unlike bans - gives the impoverished California Government income on the reduced sales, while consumers keep choice.

Notice that this also applies generally,
to CARS, BUILDINGS, LIGHT BULBS etc where politicians keep trying to define what people can or can't use.
Politicians can use the money raised to fund home insulation schemes, renewable projects etc that lower energy use and emissions more than remaining product use raises them.
More: efficient products can have their sales taxes lowered.

2. Product regulation, bans or taxation, are however UNWARRANTED:
Where there is a problem - deal with the problem.
Energy: there is no energy shortage
(given renewable/nuclear development possibilities, with set emission limits)
and consumers - not politicians - pay for energy and how they wish to use it.

It might sound great to
"Let everyone save money by only allowing energy efficient products"
Inefficient products that use more energy can have performance, appearance and construction advantages - as well as usually costing less, or else they'd be more energy efficient already.
Examples (using cars, buildings, dishwashers, TV sets, light bulbs etc):

In turn that means that there might not even be running cost savings, depending on usage.
Two more factors contribute to that:
1. If households use less energy, then utility companies make less money,
and will just raise electricity prices to cover their costs.

2. Energy use might rise.
Energy efficiency means cheaper energy, so people just leave TV sets etc on more, knowing that energy bills are lower,
as also shown by Scottish and Cambridge research

Either way supposed energy -or money- savings aren't there.

More on why energy efficiency regulations are wrong
- whether you are for or against energy and emission conservation -
Politicians don't object to energy efficiency as it sounds too good to be true. It is.
--The Consumer Side
Product Performance -- Construction and Appearance
Price Increase -- Lack of Actual Savings: Money, Energy or Emissions. Choice and Quality affected
-- The Manufacturer Side
Meeting Consumer Demand -- Green Technology -- Green Marketing
--The Energy Side
Energy Supply -- Energy Security -- Cars and Oil Dependence
--The Emission Side
Buildings -- Industry -- Power Stations -- Light Bulbs


Now TV's can be against the law... when is America going to wake up to this insane power hungry nanny state? You going to stop eating when they outlaw food?
Wake up America, take responsibility yourself, turn the damn thing off, you don't need more laws!


I can have a side-by-side ref., a freezer, an extra ref, a dishwasher, a sound surround system, space heaters, tools, 5 computers, 3 printers, 23 clock-radios, 50 light fixtures, a heated pool, a spa & 2 dozen TV's as long as they aren't too big. How much sense does that make?
How much sense does it make to buy "green" light bulbs that have more mercury in them than a can of tuna, that must be disposed of in a hazardous waste site? Go to the website printed on the card or box.
How much sense does it make to have to buy dishwasher detergent that does not clean dishes & have to run the dishwasher 3 times?
How much sense does it make to impose a ban on drilling for our own oil to "save our planet" & buy oil from other "planets" such as Canada & Mexico?
Until all the streetlights on side streets & lights in all the buildings in all our cities & towns are turned off at night, I'm planning on enjoying the largest TV I can have shipped (along with my detergent).

Pro America

Everyone loses no one wins. After I heard this lunatic announcement, I turned on my 72" high def TV and it will stay on until the earth explodes! BTW my carbon footprints are cancelling out 10 radical environmentalists non carbon prints each and everyday. Deal with it!


Pro America, I've been an environmentalist since before the word was even coined. These new so-called environmentalists make me want to turn on all my appliances at the same time & leave them on.
You are a great American.

Dan Jacobson

Green screens are a step in the right direction. We need to ensure that as we move to better and faster consumer products that we don't sacrifice the progress we have made in CA of having clean green products.
This is the first step in what should be a national effort.



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