Low-emission TV

Last updated Monday 21 July 2008

Lower-energy options for the couch potato

Huge flat-screen TVs and digital set-top boxes can multiply the energy demands of watching TV. So what's the best set-up for a carbon-conscious TV addict?

With the digital switchover due to start this year, many of us will be considering an upgrade to our TV equipment. TV use accounts for 8% of the UK's domestic electricity demand so Brits making the right choice now could be a big carbon-saver. Integrated digital television (IDTV) sets receive digital channels without the need for a separate energy-chugging set-top box and, unlike many separate boxes, they can be unplugged without losing your settings, so don't have to be left on standby.

Choosing a smaller screen - which generally means LCD rather than plasma technology - can also limit your energy use.

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Saves about 20 kg of CO2 a year

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How will it make a difference?

  • Replacing your LCD TV and set-top box with a similarly-sized IDTV saves about 30kg of CO2 - making it as effective as washing your clothes at 30 degrees
  • If the UK stopped using its set-top boxes for a year it would save about 285m worth of electricity
  • Just making sure your TV's not on standby can make a difference: according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a single TV left on standby produces as much CO2 as five patio heaters in a year (based on normal patterns of use)
  • Of course, for macro-savings, switching off all our TVs and set-top boxes once and for all would save as much CO2 in a year as taking 2.4 million cars off the road - plus all the CO2 used in their manufacture if we never replaced them - but, seriously, would we really want to live in a world like that?

Size is also important when it comes to selecting new equipment. The average plasma screen uses nearly three times as much energy and produces nearly three times as much CO2 as the average CRT (in other words, an ordinary old-fashioned telly). As a result, plasma TVs cost about three times more to run - 100 a year compared with 35. LCDs are a more climate-friendly option than plasma - but only because they come in smaller sizes. While plasma screens don't currently come smaller than 32in, LCDs are available below 20in.

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What's the debate?

Pub Fact

  • Every year, we spend over 12 billion on kit like plasma TVs, games consoles and IT equipment, making us the biggest spenders on gadgets in Europe
  • By 2005, the third most popular activity carried out by people in Great Britain, after sleeping and working in their main job, was watching TV/videos/DVDs or listening to music
  • In 2006, sales of LCD TVs overtook CRT sales for the first time
  • UK households will have an average of 2.6 television sets by 2020
  • Having an IDTV instead of a separate TV and set-top box can save nearly 6 a year in energy bills
  • Domestic appliances - including cookers, fridges, freezers, lighting, TVs and computers - account for a quarter of the UK's total electricity consumption

Critics point out that the digital switchover is forcing people into buying equipment they otherwise wouldn't need, whether it's an additional set-top box or a new digitally compatible TV. Making the switch to digital will require either energy-draining set-top boxes, or the disposal of cathode ray tube (CRT) TVs in favour of integrated digital models. Critics say that this is wasteful because CRTs rival the most efficient flat screens for picture quality and energy-efficiency. Listen to Radio 4's Costing the Earth for more on the digital switchover.

All this rampant consumerism can do a lot of damage to the climate (read our article on low-carbon shopping if you're interested). But technology has moved on so it's probably a case of trying to minimise the impact of your purchases. The bottom line is, short of simply switching the TV on less often, the energy-aware viewer would gain the best savings from having a small-screen LCD with an integrated set-top box.

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How do I do it?

  • If you are buying a new TV, buy an IDTV that combines the set-top box, screen and any other fancy stuff - this will minimise electricity consumption. Check the EST catalogue
  • If there's nothing wrong with your CRT and you weren't planning to buy a new one, your best bet is to hang onto the old box and usher it into the digital age with an additional set-top box. Read our article on buying fewer new things to avoid manufacturing emissions
  • Rather than throwing your telly out of the window, find out from your retailer how best to recycle it. Under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment obligation, retailers are obliged to dispose of your techno cast-offs or at least tell you where your nearest recycling point is
  • Get an intelligent TV, for example one that senses how much daylight is present and adjusts the screen accordingly, thus using a third less energy than other similarly sized models
  • Look for the Energy Saving Recommended logo
  • Listen to the radio on your radio, not on your far energy-hungrier TV

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