Set-top boxes (STB) have become a battleground in the development of energy efficiency policy. The federal government, state governments, industry, and energy efficiency advocates are key players. Industry needs to be vigilant in order to protect its interests.

DOE. The Department of Energy (DOE) is conducting rulemaking on STB.

DOE’s rulemaking includes a proposed test procedure. The proposal includes on, sleep (standby), and off modes, and an annual energy consumption (AEC) metric. As proposed by DOE, the term “set-top box” means a device combining hardware components with software programming designed for the primary purpose of receiving television and related services from terrestrial, cable, satellite, broadband, or local networks, providing video output using at least one direct video connection.

DOE has not proposed efficiency standards for STB at this time. It has published an initial analysis that estimates the potential economic impacts and energy savings that could result from promulgating a standard for STB.

Industry. Initially, DOE had suspended issuance of a proposed rule to allow industry and energy efficiency advocates to negotiate a non-regulatory agreement to improve the energy efficiency of STB. However, DOE decided to move forward with rules even though the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) announced a voluntary industry agreement in late 2012. This industry agreement includes commitment by participating companies that at least 90% of all new STB purchased in 2013 will meet Energy Star 3.0 efficiency levels.

The agreement also provides that, in 2013, telco providers will offer “light sleep” capabilities, and satellite providers will include an “automatic power down” feature in 90% of STB purchased and deployed. In addition, “deep sleep” functionality in next generation cable STB will be field tested and deployed if successful. (The agreement also calls for “light sleep” capabilities to be downloaded by cable operators to digital video recorders.)

At a press briefing on June 3, NCTA and CEA strongly argued that DOE should defer to the industry effort under the voluntary agreement rather than impose its own rules. They argued that the industry effort could produce energy efficiency faster and more effectively than lengthy federal rulemaking.

Energy Star. Energy Star has a voluntary program for STB. Energy Star qualified STB are to be more efficient than conventional models. There are criteria for external power supplies, maintenance activities, “automatic power down,” “deep sleep,” and “typical energy consumption.”

States. In the meantime, the California Energy Commission has invited interested stakeholders to submit proposals for California STB efficiency requirements. This could lead to rulemaking on proposed regulations. CEC rules could be preempted by DOE rules as well as influence the development of DOE rules.

In addition, a bill (Senate Bill 158) for STB efficiency is pending in the State of New York. It would require STB to comply with Energy Star STB product specifications.