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Did The CEC Miscalculate Our Future?

The California Energy Commission’s (CEC) proposed energy consumption guidelines for flat-panel TVs should raise some disturbing questions for anyone interested in the evolution of next-generation big-screen television sets.
In consultation with one of the state’s largest electric utilities – Pacific Gas & Electric – the CEC has divined over the last 18 months a new formula for TV power-consumption limits that, if approved in the next couple of weeks, could force manufacturers to comply with two progressively more rigid standards coming due in 2011 and 2013.
The standards would require televisions measuring up to 58 inches to use 30 percent less electricity by 2011 and 50 percent less by 2013 – levels most sets are already well on the way to realizing.
Although the proposed mandate would be imposed only in California, it could have a far broader impact on the rest of the country or even other nations, since in today’s global economy it is impractical for set makers to develop TV sets for hundreds of different local markets.
Meanwhile, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and many manufacturers argued that mandated consumption standards are unnecessary and could potentially interfere with new innovations in TV design. This means future features and applications built into sets that may require a little additional power to operate might be barred under the proposed regulations.
Recent advances in TV technology have significantly reduced power requirements for a majority of TV sets, and over the next couple of years most LCD TVs and many plasma models will fit within the limits demanded.
Those that possibly my fall outside the limits would be older, lower-priced models that lower-income resident could better afford, or potentially newer technologies with features not yet realized.
However, the commission, it seems, has become alarmed that the digital television transition, some six months after having taken effect, is going to overburden the state’s power grid.
This assumption ignores the fact that most CRT-based analog television sets were far less power-efficient than the new flat models of concern to the CEC, and the transition has already produced a considerable energy savings for the country.
Still, the CEC argues that its proposed power limits would allegedly save consumers $8.1 billion in energy costs.
Using calculations supplied by PG&E, the CEC shows TV sets being responsible for almost 10 percent of the average annual energy consumption of a typical California household, including necessary set-top boxes. The CEA said the set consumption figure should be closer to 5 percent.
An analysis submitted by a CEA consultant, Dr. C. Paul Wazzan (Ph.D), pointed out what he called large computational errors in the PG&E methodology used by the CEC, including the assumption that power requirements of all television sets will remain static into the future.
The PG&E analysis covered a range of years from 2011 to 2022, showing the amount saved from energy reductions gradually increasing each year. But Wazzan said the CEC took the 2022 year figure reflecting the largest energy savings in the range to calculate the amount that each and every California consumer would realize every year, starting in 2011.
That mistake alone adjusts down the energy savings from the CEC’s $8.1 billion savings estimate to $3.5 billion, he said.
The CEC also assumed an unrealistic 3 percent discount rate (the state can’t even borrow at that rate, he observed), to compute the worth of buying a TV at current prices to save money in 2022.
Wazzan said after studying consumer borrowing rates he was able to posit “a very conservative 10 percent discount rate instead of the 3 percent, which lowered the $3.5 billion figure down to a $2.4 billion savings.”
Most alarmingly, the PG&E study assumed the energy efficiency of TVs would not improve at all from 2008 to 2022, fixing the rate at 2008 levels. In the last year alone energy consumption reductions of nearly 50 percent have been realized in some 2009 plasma models.
In testimony the CEA has shown that one new Samsung 50-inch plasma set consumed 104 watts per hour, Wazzan said. “That’s like a light bulb,” he added.
“Manufacturers are competing with one another to drive energy consumption down,” he observed. “And there is plenty of evidence showing that power requirements will continue to improve between now and 2022.”
In his calculations, Wazzan said he assumed a conservative efficiency improvement of 17 percent per year between 2008 and the present and, 1 percent per year thereafter, which took the $2.4 billion savings total down to $548 million.
Using that total to calculate the additional cost of compliance today arrived at $17.14, before the $548 million in savings is eliminated.
“We see that as a pretty insignificant number,” he said.
Instead of working to drive down the energy consumption levels of products that are already well below the consumption levels 2008, and significantly more than 10 years ago, shouldn’t the CEC be looking for energy abuses of greater urgency to its residents?
Clearly, television sets are not the primary problem with California’s energy consumption problems, and manufacturers are offering consumers who are concerned about saving money on the energy bills, many alternatives in models available today.
Passing legislation for legislation’s sake would be the real abuse of power.