Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

October 10, 2006

My Latest (Self-Serving) Energy Tip: TiVo Series 3

Category: Household,Save Electricity,Technology – Tom Harrison – 8:19 pm

Well, last year I rationalized, er, justified my laptop purchase because it saved energy. And it did. No, really. Now, I have installed my new TiVo Series 3 and have a similarly self-serving justification for its purchase: no more stupid cable box! Oh, and the TiVo is pretty cool, too. And this time, I have facts to back it up. Bottom line: I am using 50 Watts less, 24 hours per day now.

I purchased a Kill-A-Watt Monitor to measure how much energy various devices were using. When I ordered my new TiVo Series 3] (the cool one that does HDTV, amongst other tricks, such as emptying your wallet), I plugged everything in to my Kill-A-Watt and watched the energy usage, both when everything was on, and when standing, when everything was off. In the bad old days, I had to have a Motorola Cable Box plus the older TiVo running continuously. The new TiVo has two neat tricks: 1) you don’t need a cable box, and 2) it uses less power than the old TiVo, presumably by entering standby mode when needed). The cable box alone was good for 40W per hour — yes, this useless little device needed to be on all the time and gobbled more than a bright CF bulb 7×24. Then, the TiVo needed to be on, and it seemed to be on all the time. The new Series 3 uses CableCards (cards that meet the “PC Card” standard) to replace the cable box and which plug in to the TiVo. So the only thing that needs to be on all the time is the TiVo, and it seems to be smart about when to be on and when to be in standby mode.

So facts: with no TV usage for 24 hours in the old world, the two boxes together consumed an average of 67 Watts per hour. Wow — no wonder it was hot in the cabinet! Same scenario for the Series 3: 12W per hour. Still not nothing, but a lot better. At this rate, I can pay for the TiVo in less than 300 years (ok, that’s not a real number, but it’s not worth calculating).

What’s also interesting is that when the TV (26″ LCD Flat Panel) and the Receiver (fancy-pants Yamaha) are on, the whole setup draws about 230W! Man, I wish I knew what my old tube TV used! But at least I can say to the kids, sorry, no TV, you’ve reached your kilowatts per day maximum :-)


  1. […] I love the iPhone, and thus, must rationalize my purchase, as I have done in the past with my TV, TiVo, and laptop […]

    Pingback by Why the iPhone (actually) Matters | Five Percent: Conserve a Little Energy — December 24, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

  2. I think Tivo should offer remotes with a mini Solar panel so they never have to replace the batteries thus reducing toxic landfill waste.

    Comment by mbv — July 23, 2009 @ 4:35 am

  3. mbv —

    We have solved the problem of throwing away batteries by using rechargeable ones. They are not ideal for things like remotes, which draw power relatively slowly, so tend to need to be switched out every few weeks or a month — rechargeable batteries are awesome for things like digital cameras. We probably have 30 each of AA and AAA batteries, accumulated over the course of three years. Most of them are in some battery-operated thing, but there are always a few spares that are charged up or in the charger.

    As we had gone through the process of replacing all the old non-rechargeable batteries, we saved them in a box, which we eventually took to a place that could recycle them — we probably had 100 or more batteries.

    The one catch with rechargeable batteries is that you have to remember not to throw them out when you throw out (yet another) broken or useless cheap consumer-electronics device.

    So get a few AAA’s for your TiVo remote and charge them up and go wild :-)

    Comment by Tom Harrison — July 23, 2009 @ 6:55 am

  4. If your going to all this time and expense to save a few pennies per day on your electric more power to you (so to speak).
    But if your doing all this based on some concept of the greater societal good—forget it. Ninety five percent or more of all electrical usage comes from business usage.
    Buy $5.00 light bulbs, and getting rid of working appliances with an eye toward reducing oil imports your being hoodwinked into spending your own money to line the pockets of people profiting off people who only want to do good, but only wind up spitting into the wind.
    Add up everything you’ve saved with everything you’ve done to save electricity and then spread that over every household in America and it still wouldn’t even show up as more then a blip on the grid. As someone who’s worked in large power plants the best thing you can do for this country and the environment is support more nuclear power stations. Remember more people have died in the back seat of Teddy Kennedy’s car then have died in or around nuclear power plants in the USA.
    Relax enjoy your electricity it’s still one of the better bargains in energy.

    Comment by Robert W Anderson — February 15, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

  5. Robert —

    Let me say, I couldn’t agree either more strongly, nor could I disagree more! In short, an awesome comment, because it makes me (and all of us) think a little.

    First, to nuclear. I went to high school in New Hampshire in the late 1970s, and recall we had a guy from the Seabrook plant come to a science-oriented crowd and pitch the idea of nuclear. I think it was then that I realized that most of what has hobbled nuclear power in the US is hysteria — this is not to say that there aren’t real and unsolved issues, but just that the ones that stick seem to be the emotional ones, not the ones that people “should” care about. I lived through Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl, which both reinforced the views of both sides.

    I have come to see two things about nuclear power. First, it is intractably mired in an emotionally charged environment, and also it is very, very expensive to build a given plant of the type most common in the US. The two of these factors make nuclear one of those things that seems challenging, at best, as a real and large scale solution to our energy issues. To be honest, I don’t have any real issues with nuclear, and in fact, I think I support it generally (as a better alternative to fossil fuels plants). But it doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of traction. Perhaps it will.

    I do question your statistics on electrical usage in the US. Indeed, based on US EIAI Data for 1197-2008 I see that of electrical consumption, residential use accounts for more than 35% (commercial about the same, industrial a but less, and transportation makes up the balance). Commercial buildings have many of the same opportunities as residential in energy reduction — on the one hand probably less in the “change to CFL” category, but on the other far more in the “500 computers set to standby for 16 hours a day”, or “reduce total lighting” because these are multiplier results.

    So even if I only address 1/3 of electrical consumption, this is a lot more than the 5% you suggest.

    Still, whether the numbers are right or wrong, your larger point is that any given change is a drop in the bucket. Indeed, any single change is often much less than a drop (or perhaps a drop in a much, much larger bucket).

    Yet, if we add up those drops (or micro-drops), the numbers do become real and meaningful. My most recent recollection is that there are about 110M households in the US. An oft-cited statistic is that if each of those households replaced one incandescent bulb with a CFL (using between 1/4 and 1/5 of the electricity), there would be some incredible multiplier impact.

    I think you would agree that statistics or claims like this are kind of silly. They are predicated on the notion that 110M of anyone does any one thing. The truth is that 110M people keep “spending energy” in increasing profligacy, and create exactly the scenario we have today. No matter how much we all say “If we all just pitch in a little”, the reality is that the only way this makes sense is when people actually have some sort of motivation to do so.

    Today, there is one motivation, a good old American one, driving change: there are a few of us who are dreamers, and think that if we engage in businesses that will certainly be profitable in five or ten years, we’ll become rich — the few who successfully read the crystal ball of the future. These interests are investing in solar, wind, batteries, electric vehicles, and all of the glue that is needed to make any of these technologies grow at scale. The numbers here suggest a rather surprising and hopeful future, although like any speculation, could also result in a dead loss.

    The other side is: force people to pay the true costs of using fossil fuels now. For years, we have not only failed to pay for the cost of emitting CO2 into the atmosphere, but we have also subsidized many industries associated with excessive energy consumption (not just Exxon, but coal, gas, and for that matter agriculture).

    One could say, “Pass a law”. Some could say we should use the same strategy that resulted in almost overnight, and dramatics reductions in consumption that we were able to effect during WWII — totally amazing, inspiring, and hopeful figures, to be sure. The most rational solution, in my view, is to increase the cost of fossil-fuel energy. I think a carbon tax would be simplest and most effective, but I don’t think it’s even close to being politically feasible (then again, one could make that argument about almost anything these days!). In my view, the highly sensible cap-and-trade solution provides a gradual, yet demonstrably effective solution to helping bring the costs of electricity and other fossil fuels up to where they should be.

    Once costs are correctly calculated, the whole equation changes. Does this bring nuclear into a new light? Perhaps. Does it make us realize that solar and wind, and even other renewables are an incredibly good deal that is far, far less costly, able to be deployed in small, low-cost increments closer to the demand, and so on.

    So, thanks for your comment. While I don’t believe your facts are exactly correct, I do believe that your larger point holds: until we have the incentive to do the right thing, changing a lightbulb, or in my case, replacing my voracious cable box with a much more efficient TiVo, are all just little drops in a bucket.

    Yet, for my house personally, we now use less than 1/2 of the electricity we used to. And it’s looking like we may have reduced the amount of energy needed to heat by 1/3 or more.

    My goal in this blog (named “Five Percent”) was simply to point out that we each have many small opportunities to save 5% of our consumption of one thing or other. If we do it two, or three, or ten times over, the aggregate effective is significant indeed.


    Comment by Tom Harrison — February 15, 2010 @ 8:45 pm

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