09 January 2009

Why Stop with Flat Screen TVs?

So, our California Legislature is proposing tight regulations on the kinds of TVs that can be sold in the state. I doubt this will get through committee. Here's a really dishonest little chart that accompanies the LAT article linked

LCD TVs are more efficient, but this chart makes it seem as if the old school CRTs are better. If they want to compare these four kinds of TVs fairly, then they should compare them on a watt per square inch basis. The real complaint from the regulators and the enviro-scolds isn't that the new TVs are less efficient, instead, it's that they're too big, and too cheap. If it was only a few really rich people buying a 52" Plasma display, then no need for regulation, but when everyone and their mother has more than one LCD TV over the size of 40" in their house, you'll see an uptick in energy consumption even as these sets get more efficient. Manufacturers aren't guilty of making an energy inefficient product, they're guilty of making that product too attractive to too many consumers.

Why just blame TVs, though? Why not limit computer power supplies to 500 watts? It's not like anyone really needs a PC that requires a power supply bigger than 500 watts. If you want to be a good citizen in Ecofornia, then you shouldn't even be thinking about having a computer with an energy hungry multiple graphics card set-up so you can run Crysis. Nobody needs to play Crysis, it's not like it's any fun, anyway. Blow dryers and curling irons suck down an enormous amount of electricity, ban both those products completely, make their use, or even possession illegal. If women don't like the way their hair looks without the use of these environment-raping devices, then get a different more manageable haircut, good citizens shouldn't be given the right to contribute to the destruction of the planet just for personal vanity's sake. All Microwaves should be limited in size and power rating as well, what's the hurry? Take your time, or do something radical and use the stove instead. Electric space heaters? ban them, it's not like it's ever that cold in any part of California (any readers in Truckee at this moment (current temp a balmy 25 degrees F), please ignore that comment). Christmas lights? Ban them, all lighting must be functional only, no decorative lighting of any kind, Gaia won't allow it.

Or we could do something really radical and pass the cost of energy consumption on to the consumers and they can decide for themselves whether or not having a 52" display that sucks down around 300 watts compared to a 40" display that consumes 200 watts. (Got to remember that a 40" TV has only 60% of the area of a 52" set (688 square inches compared to 1163 square inches, so it's unsurprising that the energy consumption is also about 65% of the bigger set).

Also, build more nuclear power plants, we don't need to limit our consumption, we need to expand our clean energy supply. Modern economies thrive on the availability of cheap energy. Nuclear energy is the only proven tech that is scalable, carbon-free, and readily available, just strip away the regulatory hurdles, speed the building process, and let the energy taps flow wide open, and then we can stop worrying about idiocy like whether or not folks use the right kind of light bulbs or watch the 'environmentally correct' sized TVs at home.

Also, since I haven't picked on Times (of London) Los Angeles correspondent, Chris Ayres, in awhile, let me point out some of his thoughts on the same issue,

But what makes monster TVs such a public nuisance? Well, the average LCD screen uses 43 per more electricity than a cathode-ray tube set (a plasma screen uses 300 per cent more) and people tend to leave them on for hours or days at a time - if they ever switch them off at all. A TV used to be something you sat down and watched: now it serves much the same function as wallpaper. All of which puts an enormous strain on California's ageing power grid.

Now much as I abhor the concept of bans, I'll concede that a few Americans have taken the concept of flat-screen TV ownership too far. A few Sundays ago, for example, I went over to my friend Dave's house, and he was watching American football on a screen so large that if the living room walls had failed, the TV would have been able to keep the ceiling propped up. At the same time, Dave was keeping track of two other games via two other (only marginally smaller) displays, while also streaming live data to a couple of laptops positioned strategically on straight-backed chairs at either side of the room. The amount of energy being sucked into Dave's flat could probably have kept the streetlights on in Baghdad for a decade.

First off, power usage from TV use is up because the TVs are bigger, but so what? That's called progress. I don't consider it a tragedy that we have "monster" TVs available at relatively cheap prices. Also, there's no evidence whatsoever that larger sets are more likely to be left on unattended or half watched when compared to older smaller sets. All stats point to less TV viewing now, rather than more, ratings have collapsed across the board for TV programming, and people in their teens and twenties seem to watch TV in historically low numbers. In this DVR/Tivo aided age, I posit that fewer folks 'watch' TV inattentively and as a sort of 'wallpaper'. People only watch the programs they want, when they want, and they skip the ads. Folks don't sit down and watch a solid block of primetime programming any more. Networks can't rely on grabbing a viewer at 8pm and having them not turn the set off until their done listening to that night's Late Night monologue some time around midnight. Are there folks like Ayres' friend "Dave" who have multiple screens on from time to time? Sure, but do they do that 24 hours a day? Hell, no. Sounds like "Dave" is a gambler or fantasy football geek, and that's why he was watching both nationally broadcast games, and had a couple of laptops in view to keep track of his bets/fantasy football players. For every "Dave" out there you can point to as anecdotal 'evidence' of rapacious energy use, I think you could come up with dozens of other characters who keep their TV watching to less than 10 hours a week and do it either on their PCs, or on modest sets.

If our "ageing power grid" is under "enormous strain" it's not cause of the likes of "Dave" so much as its because of all the NIMBY jerks who oppose the construction of new power plants. Besides if you look at the actual stats, we are some Green Ass Folks here in the Golden State. We are 48th in per capita energy consumption, and our share of US production of CO2 is 2.4%. Our 36.8M folks produce $1.8T in economic activity (with a population about 40% smaller than the UKs, our economy is only 15% smaller than theirs, so suck on that you limeys, and our CO2 production in 2006 was 59M metric tons (from the stats link) compared to the UKs Gaia destroying 587M metric tons of global warming gas(stat pulled from this wiki)).

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