Energy Adviser: Options for energy smart TVs growing

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Want a big TV for the big game? You'll find more options than ever. Just be sure to keep an eye out for the orange Energy Forward label to avoid wasting energy and money.

Today the average sized screen is 32 inches, but that's growing. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, Mitsubishi displayed a 110-inch model, reputedly the world's largest.

"Screen sizes are increasing, but bigger can be costly when it comes to energy consumption," said Ty Stober, manager of the Energy Forward initiative.

The 12.5 million TVs in the Northwest consume more than 422 average megawatts annually -- enough energy to power 300,000 homes a year. In an effort to stem this energy waste, the Energy Forward program was launched four years ago to help shoppers spot the most efficient TVs by tagging them with an orange label indicating it's the best of the Energy Star options.

By working with retailers and manufacturers, the Energy Forward initiative has helped to reduce television energy consumption across the board by 60 percent and manufacturers continue to tweak components to squeeze greater efficiency from them.

"Television technology is changing all the time, so it's important to do some research before you hit the stores," said DuWayne Dunham, a Clark Public Utilities energy counselor. "It's easy to compare sticker price and screen quality but the TV you buy today will continue to cost you money in energy consumption for years to come, so choosing one that uses less can mean a lower electric bill in the future."

A large screen these days doesn't necessarily mean your set needs more power. Each year, as technology advances, the power consumed by large screens has dropped.

Televisions are also getting smarter. Internet-capable smart TVs allow manufacturers to update TV selection menus, as well as offer periodic upgrades in power efficiencies without replacing the equipment.

Slimness squeezes speakers

Even as TVs have gained efficiencies, as they get thinner, the bulkiest components must go elsewhere. That's led manufacturers to move speakers to a separate sound bar. In part, this is to reduce the power consumption of the lone display, but it also improves sound quality. Sound bars are a component energy experts are watching closely to be sure they don't undermine the energy-efficiency gained by screens.

"We want to see net savings as technology improves," said Stober. "It doesn't help customers if the sound bar uses more energy than the new TV saves. But with more efficiencies across the board, there's potential for better screens and better sound with lower energy usage."

Display options expand

There are a variety of displays from which to choose these days including liquid crystal, light-emitting diodes, plasma and promising organic-light-emitting diode technology.

Because LCD sets produce most of the light at the back of the screen and the light is blocked before it reaches the viewer, they are relatively inefficient, regardless of display size.

Plasma screens claim better picture quality, but they require even more energy and are slightly more costly. Soon they may be in short supply, since many manufacturers have decreased their production of plasma models.

Light-emitting diode TVs are the most energy-efficient type. They use backlighting and have longer lives than plasma or LCD TVs.

A new technology, organic light-emitting diode, offers the thinnest displays and better picture quality by using a luminescent light-converting layer. But like lots of cutting edge technologies, OLED screens are starting out at a high price. Recently, LG priced its 55-inch OLED TV at $12,000.

You may be able not purchase an OLED TV or a 110-inch screen TV for quite a while. It's not too early to dream, though. As the cost of larger screens declines, you might start considering which wall in your home might fit a more modest 60-inch screen. And by that time, it may use less energy than the 32-inch you have now.

Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.