Set-Top Box Voluntary Agreement Tightens Energy Allowances and Extends Term
CableLabs, CTA and NCTA are pleased to announce that the award-winning Set-Top Box Voluntary Agreement (STB VA) has been extended by four years, along with introducing a new tier of allowances that will reduce energy consumption of set-top boxes by at least another 20 percent.
The STB VA has been a true success story since it was established in 2012. In the first seven reporting years, the STB VA has saved U.S. residential video consumers a total of 55.1 TWh and over $7 billion in electricity bills. More important, it has averted nearly 39 million metric tons of CO2 emissions through 2019.
Since the inception of the STB VA, the average energy consumption of set-top boxes has steadily declined, even as set-top box features have increased, such as 4K video support, Wi-Fi interfaces and the ability to record multiple programs at the same time. This progress demonstrates the successful collaboration between everyone in the ecosystem, including silicon manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, software developers, service providers, and energy-efficiency advocates. It is projected that, at the end of this extended term, the total energy used by set-top boxes in the United States will be only one-third of the energy used by set-top boxes in 2012 when the agreement was initially signed!
The charts below depict the evolution of a typical cable set-top box without a digital video recorder (Non-DVR) and one with a digital video recorder (DVR) across the years and across the tiers. Note that non-DVR energy consumption has decreased by nearly 70 percent between Tier 1 and Tier 4. This is especially significant as operators migrate more toward non-DVR smaller-client set-top boxes and use their ability to maintain customers’ recordings in the cloud. Not only does this capability dramatically reduce the energy footprint of STBs in the home, but it also enables customers to watch their recordings on their phones, tablets, PCs and other devices inside and outside the home.
History of the STB VA Tiers
In 2012, the STB VA was developed as a result of discussions among pay-TV service providers, technology suppliers, energy-efficiency advocates and the U.S. Department of Energy. The industry VA was forged, and it has certainly demonstrated that it is an effective alternative to regulation since its inception.
One of the primary commitments of the STB VA is that 90 percent of all STB purchases in a calendar year will measure in lower than the energy-consumption levels specified by the applicable tier. When the STB VA was established by the industry in 2012, the first tier adopted the same levels as the ENERGY STAR 3.0 program that was currently in place for STBs. That defined the “Tier 1” set of allowances for the STB VA.
In 2013, two energy-efficiency advocates—the Natural Resources Defense Council and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE)—became signatories as part of an extension to the VA that included a more aggressive new “Tier 2” set of allowances, which became applicable in 2017.
The VA was extended a second time in 2018 with a new Tier 3 definition of allowances and the term running through 2021. At the time Tier 3 was defined, the signatories also committed to exploring a Tier 4 for the allowances.
That brings us to today. After several years of research and industry collaboration led by CableLabs, the signatories just ratified a new amendment to the VA, extending the term through 2025 (with a final report in 2026) and defining an even more aggressive Tier 4 set of allowances.
To Sum It Up
In the Tier 1 era, near the beginning of the VA in 2013, a typical cable customer had two DVRs and one non-DVR device because set-top boxes were not yet networked in the home. Heading into the Tier 4 era, that same cable customer will have even more features and capabilities (e.g., cloud recording, 4K video, integrated streaming services such as Netflix) but may have just three small non-DVR devices, reducing set-top box energy consumption in the home by over 80 percent!
CableLabs is proud to be part of this highly successful VA that affords new innovative features, greater functionality and the capability to deliver high-quality services to consumers in an energy-efficient manner.
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Savin’ Some Rosenfelds
Have you ever heard of a Rosenfeld? The Rosenfeld metric was created in 2010 and named after Art Rosenfeld, a former Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Scientist and former California Energy Commissioner known as “the godfather of energy efficiency”. It is a unit of energy savings representing 3 billion kilowatt-hours per year, which is also equivalent to the amount of energy generated by one 500-megawatt coal-run power plant. Why is this important? It is a term that is often used to quantify the savings related to energy efficiency initiatives.
I was first introduced to the Rosenfeld in 2011 when the Natural Resources Defense Council estimated that the pay-TV industry could save 3 Rosenfelds of energy annually by 2016 through the adoption of energy-saving technologies and practices. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) opened a proceeding to consider the development of energy regulations for set-top boxes (STB), but by law, DOE energy standards cannot take effect for five years after adoption. To achieve faster savings, the pay-TV industry and NRDC (along with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE)) established a non-regulatory “Voluntary Agreement (VA)” in which all of the country’s largest pay-TV providers committed to the purchase of energy-efficient devices beginning in 2014.
The DOE was so satisfied with this agreement that it closed its proceeding. The Secretary of Energy at the time, Ernest Moniz, explained that the VA’s “energy efficiency standards reflect a collaborative approach among the Energy Department, the pay-TV industry and energy efficiency groups – building on more than three decades of common-sense efficiency standards that are saving American families and businesses hundreds of billions of dollars.”
I’m happy to report that in 2016, the VA saved approximately 33% more energy than NRDC had hoped for in 2011 - a savings of nearly 4 Rosenfelds! The 2016 Annual Report for the STB VA released earlier this month found that set-top boxes in 2016 used just over 8 Rosenfelds, compared to the 9 Rosenfelds that NRDC set as a goal for 2016 in its earlier report and the 12 Rosenfelds that NRDC had projected would be consumed in 2016 absent immediate regulation. The VA has therefore not only succeeded in delivering energy savings far faster than DOE regulation could have, but it has actually resulted in savings that greatly exceeded the expectations of the leading energy-efficiency advocates. And because the savings under the VA are expected to increase even more under its more rigorous “Tier 2” standards that became effective in 2017, the best is yet to come.
As stated in the most recent annual report, this program has been extremely successful in reducing the energy consumption of STBs and reducing the number of power plants required in the United States. Over the four years the signatories have been reporting, it is estimated that the program has saved 16.8 TWh of energy, saved consumers 2.1 Billion dollars in energy costs, and avoided 11.8 million metric tons of CO2 emissions.
The STB VA was established in 2012 as a five-year program, and 2017 is the last year for commitments with a final report in 2018. The VA signatories, including the energy efficiency advocates NRDC and ACEEE, are actively working on a renewal of the Voluntary Agreement to keep the momentum of this successful program going.
That’s great news for set-top boxes, but what about cable modems and routers?
There is also a Voluntary Agreement for Small Network Equipment (SNE) energy efficiency that was established in 2015, and 2016 was the first year that the signatories had to meet the commitment that 90% of their purchases or retail sales would be within the power limits established by the VA. The Annual Report for the SNE VA was just released this week, and it demonstrated progress as well. It found that 98.3% of the devices reported met the required levels, up from 89.6% last year. In addition, ten of the eleven signatories met the 90% commitment, and the eleventh fell just short at 88%. As per the VA, that signatory is working on a remediation plan to offset the incremental energy associated with its devices that exceeded its commitment.
Small Network Equipment has been evolving at a rapid pace, increasing network speeds from the Service Provider to the home, and also increasing networking capability within the home. Many of the newer SNE products integrate multiple functionalities that had been supported by separate devices, including broadband modem functionality, high-powered WiFi, MoCA, multi-port routing, and even IoT controllers. In spite of this evolution, the energy consumption of the devices has decreased relative to broadband speeds, as depicted in this chart taken from the annual report:
Energy Usage by Equipment Type, Weighted by Broadband Speed
These trends demonstrate that the service providers and manufacturers are making energy-conscious decisions in their design and purchasing decisions, and saving Rosenfelds in the process!
Debbie Fitzgerald is a Principal Architect in the Technology Policy Department and leads the Energy Efficiency Program at CableLabs.
Co-Innovation: Cablelabs’ Newest Acceleration Program
CableLabs has a strong reputation for delivering technology breakthroughs to the cable industry. It also has expertise in facilitating ideas among industry stakeholders.
By leveraging its strengths, CableLabs is increasing its focus on innovation. As a part of our transformation, we are adopting leaner, more accelerated approaches around our mid-size and strategic innovation projects. We have established a new program --- The Co-Innovation Program – that is targeted at helping CableLabs make strides in interesting adjacent and strategic technologies by intentionally seeking “co-innovation relationships” with companies who are not necessarily part of the cable industry right now.
Keep in mind, when people say the word “co-innovation” there is a tendency in innovation circles to translate this to solely mean “co-development.” At CableLabs, however, our Co-Innovation program includes co-development — and so much more.
Understanding that the work of entering into new territory is sometimes a messy business, CableLabs recognizes that one path to success might be partnering with people outside of your traditional industry who may share an interest in the same innovation space. Intentionally seeking partnerships where BOTH of you can enter into a mutually interesting arena where neither of you might have the skills or financial prowess to enter on your own can often accelerate your ability to enter a space more easily. Since new spaces are often fuzzy, it takes a certain amount of an adventuresome spirit as well as at least some funding and some willing and talented explorers to scout the territory and make headway on some of the more worthy expeditions. As with all exploration, complimentary thinking and skills often save the day in the face of new discoveries and challenges. For example, can you imagine Lewis without Clark?
It is with this spirit that CableLabs founded its Co-Innovation Program. We are proactively looking for partner companies to help us explore interest areas just outside of our traditional innovation project topics and timelines. Specific areas we are interested in are slightly adjacent to our core focus’ of wired technologies, wireless technologies and the transformation of user experience for entertainment and media. Some examples of areas we are interested in exploring are technologies that:
- Promote Longer, Better Lives (i.e., Healthcare, Aging in place)
- Enable More Perceptive Systems (e.g., Cognitive Computing Platforms, Social Robotics)
- Leverage a Sensor Driven World (e.g., Evolving sensors and actuators)
- Augmented Communication (e.g., Telemedicine, Education and Work from Home 2.0)
- Create technological catalysts and next generation building blocks (e.g., Nano technologies, blockchain, security (from device to personal authentication), and energy use and harvesting.
We look at potential co-innovation partners through a six-faceted lens:
- Vision: We must see a broad overlap in vision around a set of unchartered waters – ideally a vision that naturally or nearly aligns. For example, it is unlikely that we would enter into a co-innovation where the playing field was already crowded, overly defined or already in the main wheelhouse of our industry.
- Executive Commitment: We seek situations where the C-level is willing to engage, not just at a contractual level but at an emotional sponsorship level. Since there are traditionally fits and starts in any sort of new exploration, understanding this type of cadence takes a certain level of C-suite mettle combined with the motivation and ability of the C-level to communicate with our C-level. We look for an executive mindset that is capable of discussing and sharing direction-setting objectives with our executive staff.
- Timeframe for Results: Because this is innovation on the edge, we typically expect to see real results from the efforts in 3-8 years, which fits within CableLabs Strategy & Innovation & R&D timeframes. We are specifically not looking for problems that will see results in 20 years or more --- this is an area where our University Partnerships typically come into play. Nor are we looking to solve problems that can be addressed in 1-2 years.
- Cultural Fit: Early on, we try to get a sense of cultural fit with the companies with whom we engage. Just because you have a great idea, doesn’t mean that your teams will get along or that your processes will magically mesh. For a co-innovation to be successful, the actual engineers on the program must be able to communicate effectively and at the same level.
- Balanced Intention: We look for engagements where there is a line of sight towards causing a seismic shift for industries they serve by engaging in a program of significant yet mutual (& equal) risks. If CableLabs or the cable industry has too much to risk or there is not a clear understanding of acceptable, equally satisfactory ways to share in the outcome of the work, then the effort is probably one that would benefit more from a standard innovation agreement where there are well understood deliverables and time expectations.
- Dependency: Lastly, we look for a clear and strong dependency on one another. Essentially, we intentionally seek situations where one company cannot achieve the vision without the specific help and unique skills of the other. Over the long term, we have found that this dependency helps to keep the commitment in focus and the motivation of our teams high.
How are these projects run? To be honest, these programs are run a bit like moonshots and tend to be goal focused around a problem set and less constrained by product commitments and shipping schedules. It is not unusual for teams to decide to co-locate temporarily to work out tough problems nor is it unusual for the discoveries along the way to lead to unexpected benefits for all parties involved. Really, the emphasis and metrics around these relationships is not so much point specific ROI by a given timeframe as it is focused on the process of inventing something new. Typically, the set-up for these engagements is often top down and tends to spawn multiple projects or programs.
Due to the explorative nature of these programs and the significant mutual exposure of IP and staff, CableLabs typically tries to start only one or two engagements per year. If you believe that your company might be interested in discussing Co-Innovation on a deeper level, don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.