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Cable TV boxes are a major power drain

Wednesday - 6/15/2011, 10:23am  ET

Evan Haning, wtop.com

WASHINGTON -- Many household gadgets draw power when they are not in use, but the box that comes with your television cable provider is one of the most wasteful.

The nation's estimated 160 million television set-top boxes consumed around 27 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2010, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, reported by USA Today.

That's enough to light every household in the state of Maryland for a year, the equivalent output of nine coal-fired power plants, says the NRDC.

The combined national electric bill for these boxes is $3 billion annually, USA Today reports.

Because set-top boxes consume about the same amount of electricity whether they are in use or not, consumers are paying approximately $2 billion for standby power.

Standby power, sometimes called "vampire power," has been reduced in many appliances and personal electronics, including AppleTV. Apple's streaming device draws 3 watts when it is on, and only 1 watt when it is in sleep mode.

But although Sky Broadcasting in Europe has increased energy efficiency in its set-top boxes, cable companies have not improved their design in the United States.

This U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-funded report predicts that better design could cut the energy used by set-top boxes from 30-50 percent by 2020.

In the meantime, consumers who would like to save money have only one alternative: Unplug the box when it's not being used.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)