How Green is that Screen?

LGEPR via Flickr

Is a new flat-screen television on your holiday wish list this year? Or maybe you'd rather not wait for Santa and plan to purchase one yourself on Black Friday? Before swiping your credit card, or asking Santa to put his electrical engineering elves to work, you may want to carefully consider your choices—beyond just sound quality and color sharpness: How much energy does that set drain?

Plasma televisions use three-times as much electricity as traditional tube televisions, and their popularity is growing. More than 10 million plasma and LCD sets are expected to ship across North America in the fourth quarter of 2009, reports The Toronto Star. The desire to buy bigger and watch longer is sucking a record number of watts from the electricity grid.

In California, the appliances now account for ten percent of an average home's energy consumption. "You think of things like refrigerators or an air conditioner, but you never think of a TV," Cory Blevins, 38, a shopper at the West Hollywood Best Buy told the Los Angeles Times. "When you look at a flat-screen, it doesn't look like there's a lot there. You don't think there's a lot of juice, but I guess there is."

This increasing flow of juice prompted the passing of the country's first energy-efficiency rules for TVs last week. The Appliance Efficiency Regulations will require new televisions sold in California to consume 33 percent less electricity by 2011 and 49 percent less by 2013.

Hundreds of models on the market today already meet the green-minded state's 2011 standards, and they don't necessarily cost any more or perform any less than highly energy-sucking sets. But be careful. These are not always easy to pick out. The current version of ENERGY STAR (3.0)—stamped on many sets—does not meet the same stringent specifications. And while the next version (4.0) does, it isn't due out until May 2010. How can you find the greenest televisions today?

The Natural Resource Defense Council offers some general advice: "Only buy as big a TV as you really need" and "Adjust the brightness." Obviously, a bigger set will suck more energy, as will settings brighter than "home" mode.

If you want specific models to steer your shopping, the Sharp LC-52GX5 won the Best of CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in the Green category and was ranked #1 for televisions in Greenpeace's Green Electronics Survey [pdf]. Other models meeting 2011 California standards can be found on a list [pdf] provided by the commission.

Want an even more powerful way to conserve television energy? Consider giving Black Friday a new meaning by leaving your TV set off.

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