September 18, 2009
California Regulations On TV Energy Efficiency

The state of California is going to regulate television efficiency and knock some of the biggest TVs out of the market.

The rules, which took more than a year to develop, are designed to shave $8.1 billion off Californians' electricity bills over a 10-year-period. That works out to $30 per set per year, according to commission officials.

It will also help California utilities head off the need to build more power plants just so residents can watch "American Idol" and other shows. TVs already account for 10% of residential energy use in California, driven largely by surging demand for large-screen TVs.

The first line of this paragraph is a hoot.

Yet California's energy needs are so vast, it still must import about 30% of its electricity from out of state. Continued conservation, officials say, is critical to ensure California has enough electricity to keep its economy growing and healthy.

A geographically huge state can't generate all the electricity it uses? Why? The problem is not the vastness of California's needs. Let me reword: California's NIMBY regulations are so vast that the state prevents sufficient electricity generating capacity from being built within the state's borders. While I'm at it: California's regulatory restrictions increase transmission line losses by requiring generation capacity to be built far from its population centers and it increases odds of power outages due to failures in long distance transmission lines.

My guess is that would-be constructors of new electric power generating capacity also believe that once a generating plant is built in Nevada or Arizona it is at less future political risk from new regulatory and legislative decisions.

Plasma TVs are most threatened by this regulation. LCD TVs are substantially more energy efficient, by some reports by as much as a factor of 2 to 4. But even without regulatory pressures the plasma TV makers already have incentives to increase TV efficiency:

Plasma manufacturers are trying to avoid being edged out of the HDTV market by LCD, so putting any money into research in this area will likely bring a huge payoff for them. For one, better luminous efficiency will mean fewer parts needed to put the TV together. The power supply in a 42-inch 720p plasma TV accounts for 9 percent of the manufacturing cost, for example. It's only 3 percent of the cost of a comparable LCD TV. By increasing a plasma's efficiency to 5 lumens per watt, the cost of producing the TV could become equivalent to LCD, Young argues, which will allow plasma manufacturers to simply focus on improving the panel technology. And every dollar counts in the TV market, where margins are razor thin.

While plasma TVs have picture quality advantages LCDs weigh less, take up less space, make less noise, last longer, and use less energy. I expect the advantages to narrow but not disappear.

If you are curious about energy efficiency ratings of TVs you can go to the US government's Energy Star TV rating web page and do searches on types of TVs. Not all plasma TVs are so bad. For example, here are Energy Star ratings for plasma TVs bigger than 36 inches. They estimate that a Panasonic TC-P42U1 42" Viera U1 Series Plasma "1080p HDTV will use 261 kwh per year. At 11 cents per kwh (and you may pay more or less depending where you live) that's less than $30 per year. Not much. But a Sharp 40 inch LCD TV uses only 140 kwh per year.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 September 18 10:18 AM  Energy Appliances

jim said at September 18, 2009 11:09 AM:

Environmentalism is an evil anti-human religion for the rich, white, liberal elite that run California. Eventually the poorer Hispanics are gonna seize power and gut all these anti-human insane eco-laws.

Environmentalists hate people. And decent people hate them right back.

Tim said at September 18, 2009 3:16 PM:

The statement about importing power is a hoot, but the reason given by Mr. Parker is way funnier. He said: " Why? The problem is not the vastness of California's needs. Let me reword: California's NIMBY regulations are so vast that the state prevents sufficient electricity generating capacity from being built within the state's borders."

Here's the real scoop: California had 50,000 MW of in-state power plant capacity in 2000, and since then has added 15,000 MW (a 30% increase in 9 years). Another almost 15,000 MW have been approved by the California Energy Commission, and are either under construction or on hold because the market will not support financing of these plants at present (still, they are approved and ready to be built when someone steps up). An additional 15,000 MW of power plants is currently going through the CEC approval process. And during that time, how many power plants did the CEC deny permits to? A whopping 200 MW. How much did California's load grow? 10,000 MW, well outstripped by power plant construction. These numbers do not even include the wind and solar photovoltaic capacity the state has built. For a good summary table of plants built, under consideration, etc. look at:

So, why is the original sentence a 'hoot'. Because there is nothing at all wrong with importing 30% of your power. Transmission lines link regions to make the electrical system more cost-effective and efficient, and it would be downright silly to not use them to bring in the cheapest power you can get at any point in time.

averros said at September 19, 2009 1:24 AM:

I'm anxiously waiting for the day they prohibit TV. That'd be just a small step for CA legistlature, and the great leap for intelligence of average Californians.

anonyq said at September 19, 2009 7:48 AM:

I understand that slagging off California and nimbyisme is funny but there are other economic reasons why California will be a natural electricity importer. One is that it is more economic to bring the coal to Nevada and burn it and transport the electricity over the Rocky Mountains than it is to haul the coal all the way to California and then burn it. Second reason is the Hoover Dam which is a big, peak, generator just outside California.

About TV and consumption. According to the article it is 10% of domestic and 2% of statewide consumption. Does that mean that people at home only consume 20% of total consumption? That sounds low to me.
About the regulation itself. It doesn't really say what it includes but if it is true that hundreds of top-selling large-screen and very large-screen digital models already comply with the proposed efficiency standards than it is not really that though of a standard. If i also look at the price of TV sets and the $30,- per year it should cut from the electricity bill than i don't think it would be a bad move for Californian TV buyers to be only able to buy the efficient TV's.

Randall Parker said at September 19, 2009 8:57 AM:


California does have old coal plants. It doesn't have new coal plants due to environmental regs. Better to pollute Nevada and other surrounding states than California. It also has a ban on new nukes.

Hoover Dam: A pretty small slice of California's consumption and a declining slice as Nevada has grown and so has California. Getting 30% imported is more plausible for a small state. This is a huge state. 30% imported is a sign of regulation.

anonyq said at September 19, 2009 11:48 AM:

Hoover dam is a peak demand producer so i expect that it would be exported. Problem with coal is that you have to move it to the coal plant. It would not surprise me if burning it on the other side of the Rockies and just transport the electricity is more efficient as trains need energy to run

epobirs said at September 20, 2009 1:42 AM:

Tim, the construction of new power generation facilities is still playing catch-up after the long period when such construction was woefully inadequate. It took a crisis that was a major driver in the recall of Gray Davis from the office of Governor before the left-wing legislature could be made to accept there had to be new power sources and that their fantasies of new green power plants were not going to be practical for many years, if ever. Another big problem was the bizarre scheme that sought to deregulate part of the market while leaving the rest of it in a rigid structure that cried out for scammers to game it.


If individual residences are increasing their power demands at such a great rate, can we have progressive billing? I have no problem with a wealthy family keeping a giant plasma screen in every room of the house if they are willing to make a greater contribution to new power plant development than those with more modest consumption. Loathe as I am to promote new taxes, and this would effectively be a luxury tax, there has to be consequence if one threatens to overwhelm a shared resource. In turn, this would provide incentive for those wealthier residents to install things like solar arrays to reduce their impact on the grid and avoid the higher rates. This further leads to more business for solar array businesses and more funding for R&D to make these products available to a wider market.

Rich people are a great resource for making better stuff avaialable to everyone if you apply them correctly rather than just hit them up for cash directly.

Randall Parker said at September 20, 2009 8:56 AM:


In California we already have what you refer to as progressive billing. There are price tiers depending on how much electricity you use. This is yet another means by which the more productive subsidize the poor.

One of the consequences of this tiered pricing is that bigger electricity users have a bigger incentive to install solar panels.

anonyq said at September 20, 2009 7:06 PM:

Or buy more energy efficient appliances. Also the only way i see in which the well to do use more electricity is in air conditioning as they have bigger houses. Every other appliance the poor uses just as much.

ps. I assume that you mean with the poor the bottom 20% and not the bottom 90% because than you really see a differgency in consumption.

Emily said at October 7, 2009 12:45 PM:

Interesting efforts by California. Anything to save energy or improve efficiency. Thanks for the article!

Russell Walker said at November 19, 2009 5:06 PM:

Why can't the consumer make his or her own decision... if power demand is more than the supply then power is going to be more expensive... Well what the fuck do we do as consumers... we buy TVs that use less energy. Why do I need the CEC telling me what kind of TV I can watch? If I want to watch a TV that cost a $100 a month to run then that is my choice. I think VIZIO is behind all this and is trying to clear a path for its LED TV and move the less expensive LCD competition out of the way! This has absolutely nothing to do with the environment. I can't believe I moved to this shitty state. More regulation than you can shake a stick at and more, wait check that... WAY more spending than then this state can afford!!!

Randall Parker said at November 21, 2009 5:28 PM:

Russell Walker,

The argument for reduced electric power usage is that there are external costs from pollution that do not show up in the price for electricity.

Anonymous said at September 12, 2010 10:54 PM:

Since when is it ok for the state to determine what industries survive or not based on their agenda. Plasma tvs may be better tvs in general an the state is going to determine that "certain tvs" will be illegal. So the state will determine that we all must use inferior tvs just so the state can "promote its energy saving agenda"? This so called democracy is crap. They do not give a rats ass about choice, and they the nanny state has determined what is good for us despite ourselves.
What happened to free markets determining what product survive? Don't we get suspicious when its leading LCD associations and Vizio really not the best tv company around that support "The State's" agenda?
The state has promoted all this based on some notion of saving us from global warming when there is not even agreement on this concept among scientists. I think is time for "The State" to step off!

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