Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

September 22, 2010

It’s Pointless To Save A Little

Category: Conservation,Household,Save Electricity – Tom Harrison – 4:26 pm

Update: 9/24/10: Measured TiVo standby and it saves only 1W. Phooey! I confirmed with TiVo support that “we don’t recommend turning it off and on repeatedly, but the system is designed to handle power outages, so it should be fine”. They also point out the newest model of TiVo are Energy Star compliant, standby does reduce power consumption and at idle, its around 20W, but honestly, that seems needlessly high to me.

TiVo energy useI want to put a timer switch on my TiVo because it uses 37 watts all the time (which is good compared to normal cable boxes, which TiVo replaces). But I only ever watch or record shows between noon and midnight — the TiVo is on half the time for no reason.

So I asked a question on the public support forum about whether turning the device on and off like this would hurt it.

I got a little helpful advice, but a flood of responses saying things like:

  • The energy used to make the timer would never be offset by the amount of energy you save
  • Don’t forget that the timer is an electrical device and consumes energy
  • It boggles my mind that people would waste their time on saving a few cents a day
  • The amount of energy you might save is tiny compared to X
  • Don’t forget how much money you spend buying all the things that help you save energy
  • It’s behavior like this that got us into all this trouble with mortgages and buying too much stuff

The first two items are potentially valid. Things take energy to make (and ship, etc.). To find out how much, you need to hire a very expensive reasonably priced Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) consultant like my friend Tom Gloria. And while Tom G. would be the first to caution me about this, a little common sense suggests that an $8 device that operates a tiny clock motor may have a relatively small footprint. And given that it has been sitting unused in a bin for three years, I would argue it’s a kind of resurrection of the “sunk cost” :-)

The next point is worth considering, and I did: the timer uses far less than 1 watt.

On the next point, granted, that I spend my time thinking about these things is truly inexplicable. But some people while away their time in various other pursuits such as fishing and photography of their pets — this is just my little peccadillo.

But the other comments are a little different — there’s something going on here. It seems like people think it’s pointless to save a little, or according to the last point, downright harmful. (Thankfully no one on the TiVo “community” forum attacked me on the grounds of the Jevons Paradox, because I would have lost it).

Am I missing the forest for the trees? Are my efforts to save energy counter-productive? Is it worse not to use something than to simply waste it?

Or have I perhaps just stumbled into the hornet’s nest that is today’s conversation about what is right? Sigh.

(As an aside, I asked a question of the official TiVo support and their response noted a “Standby” function I hadn’t noticed, which I will measure, and that I can easily use if it actually saves energy.)


  1. Tom, I hear ya. The ignorant comments you got are frustrating. But there’s another valid reason for asking this: one might not have enough capacity on their electrical panel to waste power needlessly. My 40-year old home has a single 20-amp circuit for my A/V receiver, my router, my computer, my television, my blu-ray player, my Nintendo, my cable modem, etc. If these devices were all as careless about how much power they consumed in standby mode, they could be collectively idling at 500+W! With only 2,000W of maximum continuous load available, worrying about idle power consumption is not just about saving pennies. I’ve had quotes to expand the capacity of my electrical panel for $5,000, so it’s reasonable to ask whether devices like TiVo could just idle more efficiently in the first place.

    Comment by Itrat — October 20, 2012 @ 1:34 pm

  2. Great article, Tom! You likely found out yourself by now – this timer switch thing works! For sure this does save energy. Too bad that a meaningful standby mode hasn’t made the list for TiVo as I’m aware of.

    Had my TiVo 2 on a timer for 4 years without a problem. Off at midnight, on 10am. My TiVo premiere is hanging in there doing the same for 2 years now….

    Comment by Helostoma — November 3, 2012 @ 12:28 am

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