California Chooses Stick Over Carrot

Yesterday, the California Energy Commission (CEC) made it official, and unanimously adopted new energy requirements for televisions sold in the state. It sets electricity consumption limits for sets up to 58″ diagonal. The first level takes effect January 2011, at which time one source indicates a 42″ must not consumer more than 183 watts. In January 2013, more stringent requirements will take effect; that 42″ set will have to consume 115 watts or less.

Unlike the federal Energy Star logo program which is optional, California’s limits will be required. This prompted an outcry from many television manufacturers as well as the Consumer Electronics Association. One of the major concerns is that these limits could stifle advancement of new features. For example, incorporating non-television features such as Internet access or digital video recording (DVR) functions in the same housing as the TV might push a model over the limit. The alternative would be to build these functions into a separate box, and the two devices in sum might consume more energy than the single integrated device.

My take on this is that it is a typical, ham-handed California approach to environmental issues. (Does anyone remember when San Francisco briefly banned pregnant women from working at CRT monitors?) All this effort and money spent on establishing limits is puzzling, since at least 1,000 current television models already meet the 2011 requirements. I expect that the energy consumption will drop even further in the next year, and won’t be at all surprised if most sets meet the 2013 limits well in advance of that date. The market is going to do a good job of rewarding energy-efficient TVs on its own, as manufacturers are making this a significant part of their sales pitch these days.

On the other hand, I also wonder about the industry’s strong objections to the CEC’s action. Yes, I see the danger of a Balkanization of rules and regulations among different states, but California has had separate car emissions requirements and that doesn’t seem to have ruined the auto industry’s creativity and development of new features. And I don’t think any other state has followed suit by developing their own emissions requirements for new cars. I think that the industry objections are a bit over the top, especially since so many models already meet the requirements.

On balance, I expect that it would probably have been better if California had not taken this action, but I don’t think it will cause any great harm to the industry or cost consumers a lot of extra money in any case.

UPDATE: Paul Semenza and Paul Gagnon of DisplaySearch have also written about this decision, and provide an excellent graph showing how many existing models are already below the 2011 limits, and a significant number already meet the 2013 requirements.