Page last updated at 17:32 GMT, Tuesday, 15 April 2008 18:32 UK

Standby ban 'presses wrong buttons'

Douglas Johnson
Douglas Johnson

The campaign calling on governments to phase out standby options on electronic goods is a waste of energy, argues Douglas Johnson. In this week's Green Room, he says the combination of market forces and innovation is much more effective than regulation to reduce the demand for energy.

Standby button (Image: PA)
Voluntary, market-oriented approaches are working well and allow the consumer electronics industry to do what it does best - innovate and improve quality of life

Green is good - this has been a key message for the consumer electronics industry.

The voices calling for increased efforts from utility companies, manufacturers, business and consumer users of electricity to reduce consumption are getting louder.

It is an emotive issue and every stakeholder - from electronics manufacturers and politicians, to consumers and environmentalists - has an opinion.

Most are willing to air views and call for someone to take responsibility to improve energy efficiency as part of our collective impact on the environment.

The many opinions have produced a complex and complicated landscape, where solid understanding is clouded by contrary views.

A good example is standby power - the use of electricity when a device is not active. It is used to provide consumers with functions and features such as remote control, memory, clock and networking.

A key challenge lies in cementing a base of truth that provides a solid platform to understand the issue and make sensible commentary. We can then investigate progress and identify the areas where we can continue to make significant progress.

Reducing standby power in electronic goods has been a by-product of innovation and successful voluntary, market-oriented programmes.

More for less

The industry has made great progress since the late 1990s; several global companies have committed to producing new products that use less than one Watt when in standby mode. Already, some TVs use just 0.3W.

Initiatives such as the US's Energy Star initiative and the UK Energy Saving Trust's Energy Saving Recommended programme have been major drivers in reducing standby power consumption, while protecting consumer choice, competition and innovation.

For example, according to trade group Intellect, the average energy consumption of televisions in standby mode has been reduced by manufacturers, without the need for legislation, from 30W in 1995 to 1.8W today, and it is continuing to decrease.

Similarly, the power consumption of televisions when in use has come down from 400W to 30W since the 1970s.

These are significant strides and the industry is definitely making headway; this should not, and cannot, be ignored.

The consumer electronics industry should be commended and encouraged to continue its efforts to further improve energy efficiency.

Televisions (Image: AP)
Legislation is not necessarily the best way to encourage further development of energy efficient consumer electronics products

Trade groups such as the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and Intellect understand the importance of reducing carbon emissions and the role that household electronics can play in achieving this.

The industry as a whole has worked diligently over many years to reduce energy use and has achieved significant success.

However, for many products, including TV sets, active-mode energy-use far exceeds the use in standby mode.

Therefore, as programmes like Energy Star and Energy Saving Recommended broaden their remit to address active-mode energy-use, it is increasingly important for the industry and other stakeholders to continue their commitment.

Alongside economic imperatives that suggest green is good for business, work is currently being undertaken with energy savings stakeholder groups.

Around 85% of Intellect's consumer electronics members have voluntarily registered to use the Energy Saving Trust's labelling scheme on 185 of their products.

It's great that a vocal majority is now conscious of the issues surrounding climate change, but we should be sure to steadily move forward, preserve progress, and recognise successful approaches already in place.

Voluntary, market-oriented approaches are working well and allow the consumer electronics industry to do what it does best - innovate and improve quality of life, while contributing to the preservation and improvement of the environment.

We are starting to recognise and accept the need to consider industrial carbon emissions, but legislation is not necessarily the best way to encourage further development of energy efficient consumer electronics products.

Furthermore, a regulatory approach based on government standards and mandates would not have the flexibility or agility to keep pace with the ever-changing and evolving consumer technology sector.

Encouragingly for all stakeholders, being green does make good business sense.

Industrial innovation, coupled with voluntary, market-oriented programmes, is a more effective route than regulation. In fact, such programmes, as illustrated above, already exist and their success is well documented.

Doug Johnson is senior director of technology policy and international affairs for the Consumer Electronics Association

The Green Room is a series of opinion pieces on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Do you agree with Douglas Johnson? Is the consumer electronics industry doing enough to reduce energy demand? Has too much attention been focused on leaving devices on standby? Or is not enough being done and regulation is needed to cut goods' energy consumption?

A refreshing look at standby - as you say the move to the 1 watt standby is the solution, not trying to switch off all our appliances before going out the door. However you don't talk about how the EU has sabotaged the energy rating system by not making the A standard to follow current best practice. So now if you by an A rated appliance it probably isn't that good - you should be buying an A* or A** device....
Douglas, Edinburgh

I agree with Mr Johnson. What is the point in the Government focusing our attention on trivial amounts of energy consumption caused by leaving devices on standby or by carrying around excess baggage in our car boots? While they are wasting their energies on these distractions world governments continue to sanction the wholesale destruction of rainforests and the massive increase of fossil fuel burning in the emerging economies such as China. Are politicians really this stupid or do they jus hope that we are? Regards ............. D Walton
David Walton, Stanley, UK

"The power consumption of televisions when in use has come down from 400W to 30W since the 1970s". Come on Mr Johnson, take a look at the TV's in the shops. 300 to 500W plasma screens are becoming the norm, and worst of all there is no energy rating labelling for TV sets. 85% are labelled eh ? Open your eyes ! Why so little labelling ? Because your industry has not implemented any voluntary measures to inform consumers. Any economist will tell you that full information is the key to the genuine free market you claim to espouse, but your members don't seem to want that. Your consumer electronics industry needs some heavy regulation to make you change your ways, or at least stop talking obvious nonsense.
Simon Reynolds, Kingston, Surrey, UK

Its all very well to talk about not having stand-by but how will it work in practise. I assume that someone who is old or disabled would be able to have a TV with stand-by, so hows it going to work - would there be a medical before your allowed to buy a TV with stand-by. This would of course mean manufacturers producing two versions of the same TV.
Alan Huxford, Portsmouth UK

Quite right. Once the standby power is down to one or two watts, it is time to move to the next target. A good next target would be clocks on microwave ovens (is it true that the typical microwave uses more power in the clock than on cooking over a year?). Or the power drawn by power adapters. Mobile phone adapters, laptop adapters, cable modems, broadband and wireless networking adapters get pretty hot, and tend to be on all day and all night.
Mark Lockett, Christchurch New Zealand

The simple fact of the matter is people LIKE the standby function they don't want to have to get up and walk accross the room to turn things on and off all the time, so either TV's and other appliances will be left turned on using more energy or people will just buy the plug socket adaptors that turn any electronic device into a device with standby. Plus it is not practical to remove standby as many TV's are up on wall mounts out of reach and many people just arn't mobile enough.
Chris Jacobs, Kinver UK

As I was reading this piece, I was thinking to myself, "This is some of the most fanatical, fundamentalist tripe I've read on the BBC. Is this guy a lobbyist or an ignorant economist?" Then I got to the line describing Johnson as a lobbyist, and I was disappointed. The BBC could do better than publish a piece by a PR flack for consumerism, who apparently equates remote-controlled 2 meter plasma TVs in every room of the house with improved quality of life. He writes about innovation and market forces as if he knows nothing of history. Markets are games, and enforced regulations set the rules. It's been that simple as long as people have been trading, and this piece is little more than a plea not to change the rules to get the kind of results from this economics game that we (society) want. We're not likely to see Doug argue that the regulations requiring all broadcasters to switch to digital signals in the US are bad, because then his industry sells more TV sets as analog sets are forced into obsolescence. But when it comes to regulations that change the way they manufacture TVs to reduce their energy and environmental impacts, suddenly all regulations are bad and stifle the "natural" innovation of such an enlightened industry. Please, BBC, try to consider whether it's a noble intention to follow in the footsteps of Rupert Murdoch and be nothing but a platform for corporate shills. I'm actually disappointed, and I'm surprised.
Steve, Colorado, US

Let us smile at those thinking that by switching off stand by power they have saved the world. Let us ask how much energy they wasted by leaving their electrical water heater on, for just one minute more than necessary. Or what happened to the residual energy of their water until they switch it on again. Maybe milliwatts and Kilowatts sound Greek to them. Isnt it perhaps the right time to start eliminating storage electrical water heaters and not just the filament bulbs? Who cares about stand by power till then?
Alex Palatianos, Paros Greece

The energy savings made by legislation would be a drop in the ocean. Politicians need a bogey man to make us think they are worth keeping. The Swiss have the right idea. Domestic users should not be fooled that lower consumption would save them money. The power companies would simply raise prices to maintain profits.
R. Tartaglia, Einburgh Scotland

Whilst I agree that standby is an issue I think there are other areas more pressing. Look at any Local Government office building at night and see all the lights on, computers left on through the night. Not only is this a waste of energy, its a waste of tax payers money.
Malcolm Ball, Northwich, Cheshire

Reducing standby power is certainly not going to be enough on its own. However, manufacturers should certainly be "encouraged" (using legislation if necessary) to reduce the power used in those modes to the lowest amount possible. Sadly Mr Johnson has simply added more misinformation to the mix. He's certainly right that some TVs now consume as little as 0.3W in standby, and that's commendable. No excuse therefore for any new TVs to consume more. However, many devices with "active" standby modes (such as digital TV recorders) are poorly designed and consume far more - 20 or 30W in some cases. This claim, however, is complete nonsense: "For example, according to trade group Intellect, the average energy consumption of televisions in standby mode has been reduced by manufacturers, without the need for legislation, from 30W in 1995 to 1.8W today, and it is continuing to decrease." My TV from 1992 consumes 3W in standby, and I do not believe it is atypical. That's an order of magnitude worse than today's best, but an order of magnitude better than Mr Johnson claims it would be. Progress has not been as dramatic as he would have us believe. And this claim is even worse: "Similarly, the power consumption of televisions when in use has come down from 400W to 30W since the 1970s." Those 1970s electricity guzzlers must have been the early valve-based wooden cabinet designs. Again, my 1992 29" TV consumes 105W in use. And if Mr Johnson thinks that today's large screen TVs consume 30W in use, he has clearly not troubled himself to check the reality! That figure might apply to a small LCD TV or computer monitor, possibly, but not to the new TVs being used in people's living rooms. Progress is being made, but we have a long way to go.
Nigel , Coventry, UK

Yes the electronics industry should be commended for the work they have done, and continue to do, in reducing energy consumption on white goods. However, why does any item need to consume ANY power when it is not being used? Standby, in my opinion, seems to only exist to help lazy people who don't want to get off the sofa to switch the TV on at the TV. Get a grip and get off your backside! You could even try turning it off and go outside for some fresh air.
Simon Hogg, Beeston, UK

This article omits to say just how much more electricity modern plasma screen televisions use than the cathode ray screens that they have replaced. Plasma screens use approximately 3 times more electricity than equivalent cathode ray screens. In late 2006, Philips won a green tv award for a 42" LCD screen which used 210 watts, which is a lot less green than Philips' own old-style 28" cathode widescreen tv which used 87 watts. A 50" plasma screen uses up to 400 watts, while Samsung, LG and Panasonic have all produced a giant 102" - 103" plasma screens! Douglas Johnson is also disingenuous towards those that have called for greater energy saving, when it comes to cutting energy use when tvs are in a standby mode. Long ago, the world's television manufacturers made a simple business decision to cut their costs by omitting the cheap circuits that would have always meant the electricity use of their products was very low when they were on standby. They have only added these circuits because of the pressure coming from campaigners, the public and belatedly politicians - not because they have volunteered to do the right thing. Primarily, manufacturers are interested in maximising their own profits, not in reducing their customers energy bills. They therefore need to be regulated by governments, if they are to reduce the energy use of their products by as much as is technically and economically feasible and in everyone's interest.
Dr Matt Prescott, Oxford, UK

Let discussion be based on numerical facts. Decision based on current reality. Set a British [or EU] standard for stand-by power consumption. Require all new products to comply. Introduce VAT refund for new items IF old out of spec. item exchanged.
david holmes, reading

Stand-by is not the issue. The problem is equipment which can't be switched off. Some modern electronics, such as satellite boxes can only go down to standby - switching the equipment off re-initialises the box and it has to go through the entire set-up again. Having said that, more emphasis on the "less than 1W" concept would be helpful. I have a freeview received which uses 6.5W running, and 5W in stand-by. Luckily I can switch it off when not in use.
Gordon, Aberdeen, UK

The consumer industry may be moving to reduce energy consumption but they would probably be moving a lot faster if the threat of prosecution was on their minds. There is no guarantee that voluntary measures will work and quite frankly we can't afford to rely on hope alone.
Simon Tompsett, Teddington, Middx UK

Nonsense. The energy costs of consumer electronics are paid by the consumer after purchase so are hard to factor into purchases. The cost of making products green is borne by the producer so is passed on in the purchase price. Therefore there is little incentive to carry out many environmental improvements. The products and producers are too large and diverse for consumers to monitor. What we need is a higher energy price and/or carbon restrictions. Carbon rationing or taxation are the most efficient methods to achieve this. Doug is right only in that creating lots of different efficiency standards is inefficient, whereas regulation in general is very much needed.
Ewan, Cambridge

So; you've given them the 99% efficient lightbulb, and the 99% efficient toaster, and the 99% efficient flat screen TV . . . and then they still want to pack one more "consumer" on to the planet - then what ? If anyone has bothered to think this through; after you've done all this; the limit is still there; it's still the same old planet - what we have left of it - and that's your brick wall; right there. We have to stop. That's the real "delivery" - and all these other "eminent experts" jumping up with the worlds most efficient coffee machine will not change the fact; this is simply more marketing guff, and it does nothing about fixing the bottom line problem; there is too much human activity, and we have to rein ourselves in. Full Stop. I have been waiting 14 years for the rest of you to think it through, and I'm still waiting.
steven walker, Penzance

It's all well and good switching off the telly at the wall of an evening, but consumers can only do so much. It is so aggravating to walk down the street at night to see office buildings lit up and shop windows full of TV sets switched on for no-one's benefit. When will the government begin to put pressure on businesses to change their practices?
Robert MacRae, Manchester, England

Rather than a regulatory approach, a tax-based approach would be better. 1. Divide TV sets into 9 categories (1-9), ordered by standby power consumption, and with the same number of sales by price in each category 2. TVs falling in category would have the 'norma' VAT rate applied. 3. For each category of increasing power consumptiom, increase VAT by, say, 20% so that the top category pays roughly double VAT 4. For each category of decreasing power consumptiom, decrease VAT by, say, 20% so that the top category pays roughly zero VAT This system will be: - revenue neutral - self-balancing, so that the companies who produce lower-power-consuming sets gain, and the power-hungy ones lose. As they improve their products, the system will automatically adjust and still encourage the low power equipment.
Matthew Phillips, Leatherhead, UK


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