MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.
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BLOCK: It's time now for our weekly technology segment, "All Tech Considered." Last week, we explained how to scan barcodes and comparison shop with your cell phone. This week, we go shopping for televisions. Flat screens deliver dazzling pictures, but they also eat up lots of electricity. Earlier this month, the government released its new Energy Star efficiency standards for TVs, and we asked NPR's Richard Harris to put them to the test.
RICHARD HARRIS: If you're shopping for a new dishwasher, you can read that yellow energy guide label to figure out how much electricity it'll consume. No such luck if you're shopping for a glitzy new widescreen TV. Some TVs do have the Energy Star efficiency sticker, but Noah Horowitz from the Natural Resources Defense Council says even that has been misleading.
Mr. NOAH HOROWITZ (Senior Scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council): Energy Star was woefully behind on TVs. In order to earn the Energy Star label, it only dealt with how much power did the TV consume when it was off.
HARRIS: That has just changed. For the first time, Energy Star ratings consider the power TVs use while they're actually on. And that means that now for the first time you can go to the Web to look up the power consumption of TV sets that make the Energy Star list. So we took that list and a meter for measuring electricity consumption to a MyerEmco TV shop in Clarendon, Virginia.
Mr. BRIAN WELLS (Assistant Manager, MyerEmco, Clarendon, Virginia): This one should be easy to test out.
HARRIS: Brian Wells, the assistant manager, started off with a 50-inch plasma TV, a Pioneer Elite. We plug it into the meter.
And you're reading wattage right now, is that?
Mr. WELLS: Yes. Right now we're idling at about 390 watts.
HARRIS: Three hundred and ninety watts. Wow.
That's like turning on 30 compact fluorescent light bulbs all at once. And if you assume that the set will be on for five hours a day, this set consumes more electricity than a typical refrigerator. Wells says it should do better in a slightly dimmer, energy-saving mode.
Mr. WELLS: So now if we turn on the energy-save mode to conserve some energy, we're at 300 watts.
HARRIS: And this presumably does not meet the Energy Star standard.
Mr. WELLS: It actually does. It's on the list.
HARRIS: Oh, it is on the list.
Mr. WELLS: It actually is.
HARRIS: The Energy Star list, it turns out, doesn't single out the most efficient TVs on the market. It looks for the best within a class of TVs. And this one is relatively good for a 50-inch set. Still, your friendly neighborhood coal-burning power plant would emit half a ton of carbon dioxide every year to keep this one TV on five hours a day, and that's in its energy-saving mode. For comparison, I asked to look at the smallest TV in this upscale store.
Mr. WELLS: Certainly a small, popular size would be about a 32-inch television. So we could easily test out one of these models.
HARRIS: OK. We unplug it from the wall and plug it back into our wattmeter.
Mr. WELLS: All right. Well, in its brightest setting, it's pulling about 115 watts.
HARRIS: So that's like two incandescent light bulbs, or 10 compact fluorescent light bulbs, or nine, something like that. That's much lower power consumption than the 50-inch TV, mostly because of its size, but perhaps also because this set has an LCD screen. That technology is typically more efficient than plasma screens, like the first set we tested.
So do people come in and say, I want an energy-efficient TV? Or does that ever come up at all in the discussion?
Mr. WELLS: It's coming out more and more often, for sure.
HARRIS: That's encouraging news to Noah Horowitz who has been documenting a discouraging trend about TVs for the environmental group NRDC. He says not only are people buying bigger and bigger TVs, the TVs are using more power, and people are watching more than ever.
Mr. HOROWITZ: It's almost like we've been dealt a losing trifecta ticket there.
HARRIS: The new Energy Star rating system is the first step toward helping consumers make smarter choices about the TVs they buy, he says. But he's still waiting for the government to follow through on a new law that requires yellow energy guide stickers on every set, so people can compare easily when they shop. He says those yellow stickers are caught up in red tape at the U.S. Department of Energy. Richard Harris, NPR News.
BLOCK: Richard has also been blogging today about his story and how your older TV may rate in the efficiency department. That's at our Web site, npr.org/alltech.