Even though there’s no financial incentive to deploy energy efficient set-top boxes, Comcast is doing so, according to a Comcast executive at last week’s Green General Session at Cable-Tec Expo.

"Energy Star does not put dollars in Comcast’s pockets," said Dick Kirsche, director of digital set-top hardware with Comcast.

Nevertheless, since 2008 the MSO has been deploying set-tops that meet the EPA’s Energy Star requirement. In 2010, Comcast plans to deploy enough of the energy-efficient boxes to qualify as an Energy Star Partner. That means that either 50 percent of new boxes purchased in one year or 25 percent of the company’s entire fleet of boxes must comply.

It appears that a lot of the impetus for this environmental consciousness at Comcast comes from mid-level management. This differs from Cox, where an energy efficient mandate comes from top down. Cox has instituted its Cox Conserves program focused on reducing Cox Enterprises’ carbon emissions 20 percent by the year 2017.

"We’re rolling the ball up hill," said Kirsche, referring to his set-top box group within Comcast. But he said Comcast top brass is supporting the program.

The Energy Star boxes save only 5-10 watts of power consumption per box, said Kirsche. That’s not a lot of energy on a per unit basis. It might save the subscriber only $5-$10 per year. But with tens of millions of set-top boxes deployed, "you’re talking megawatt power savings per year," he said. "That matters to the power company. It matters to the environment."

The NCTA has also worked with the EPA on the energy efficient set-top box issue.

"We worked with EPA to develop specs so set-tops could become compliant," said William Check, SVP science and technology with the NCTA. "The EPA has a big interest in set-tops. We have billions of them out there, and they’re always on. So from an EPA perspective, they would really like to see cable operators move toward Energy Star compliant boxes."

Kirsche said the Energy Star boxes being deployed save electricity simply by being "better boxes" with more efficient use of silicon. But the panel discussed the likelihood that in the future, boxes won’t stay on all the time, but will automatically shut off when not is use.

Although the Energy Star program is voluntary, in the future it may not be.

"Last week the EPA came out with small network equipment for Energy Star—for modems, home routers," said Check. "They would like to have those be Energy Star compliant, as well."

-Linda Hardesty

The Daily

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