Viewpoint: Solving An Energy Crisis

I wrote about

I received an e-mail from a someone named Bob Cleary, who read the column and had a practical solution. Cleary worked for many years in the power supply industry and said that to develop a test to measure energy use, all that is required is an agreed-upon set of standards. The industry has to select a particular test image to present on the displays, along with a specific brightness level for the displays, he said. Test instrumentation would cost less than $1,000, and the test would take only about a minute to complete.

I asked Joel Silver, president of the Imaging Science Foundation, a training and consulting organization that studies displays, how feasible the test would be. Silver said the test would be extremely easy. However, he added that one reason such a test has never been done is because "the video-purist approach looks at the issue [of energy use] like others look at gas mileage on a Ferrari."

Simply put, Silver said that even though the test would be easy to do and quite valuable, someone doing high-end calibration of displays or a customer looking to purchase the top-performing product would not be concerned about energy use.

I beg to differ. As I mentioned in my previous column, the National Resources Defense Council predicts that U.S. energy consumption by displays will double by 2009 and account for 10 percent of the nation's total energy consumption. Even the wealthiest customers will pause when they see their energy bills take off because of their televisions. And with fuel costs skyrocketing, the impact on their wallets will be significant.

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Integrators have an obligation to consider this issue when selling to customers. If you are putting together a whole-home automation and control package, you need to think beyond the individual components and consider how each major device affects other products and systems throughout the house. Some states and towns have already passed laws to limit the amount of energy consumed by homes, and energy companies contemplate a future in which they can charge more for power consumed during peak-use hours.

Both trends are leading many homeowners to explore whole-home automation systems to help reduce their overall energy consumption. If you're integrating a home system that uses outside air to precool the house and have installed solar panels on the roof to generate electricity, it would be counterproductive to set up televisions that gobble up energy. Even if you're not designing energy-efficient homes, it is still important to think about customers' bills.

If you're selling and setting up only a single display or two, you should still be concerned about the larger impact of the display on the home's energy use. A single display often comes with a DVR, speakers, a game console and other energy-hungry devices.

What can you, as an integrator, do? If you have the capabilities, set up a test bed to compare the energy use of various displays. If you're already testing and researching the attributes of various displays to select the best for your customers, energy consumption should be a criterion.

Cleary pointed out another simple and inexpensive way for integrators to measure the energy use of any device themselves. He said he recently purchased the Kill A Watt device from P3 International for $25. Integrators can plug the Kill A Watt into a power outlet and then plug any electrical device into the socket on the Kill A Watt's front panel. Kill A Watt reports the device's wattage, the number of kilowatt hours it uses and other measurements. Cleary said the Kill A Watt is not laboratory-quality, but it still provides basic readings.

For power-efficient displays, integrators can also put pressure on vendors and other related parties. Vendors spend a lot of money testing the features, functionality and aesthetics of their products to make sure they will sell. Encourage vendors to test their displays' energy consumption as well and to look for ways to make their products less power-hungry. If vendors hear from their valued integrators that low energy use is becoming an important selling factor for customers, they'll make it a priority in their R&D.

You should also put pressure on government agencies such as the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. Both organizations have begun to look into the issue, but they will be slow to act unless prompted by the industry or consumers to do so.

If the home integration industry makes this a priority, all we have to lose are our high energy bills.

Any other suggestions? Contact Michael Gros, associate editor at Digital Connect, at (516) 562-7276 or via e-mail at [email protected].