Energy Efficiency Voluntary Agreements Helped Pave the Way for Increased Remote Access
We’re enduring crazy times in 2020! Because of COVID-19, the world has shifted to learning, working and playing at home for months at a time—and residential cable networks have successfully handled the load. One key reason that networks have managed so well is because cable service providers build for the future: The majority of cable networks were well-positioned to deliver the necessary downstream and upstream data to customers who are now conducting much of their day remotely over the network.
How do energy efficiency voluntary agreements play a role? One major advantage to the voluntary approach is the New Feature Allowances Process, which enables operators and manufacturers to innovate and evolve their networks and consumer devices without being constrained by regulation. An example is the Small Network Equipment Voluntary Agreement (SNE VA) adopted by the United States in 2015 (Canada also established a similar agreement late last year). In the 4 years that the SNE VA has been in place, average broadband download speeds have nearly quadrupled and consumer devices have evolved significantly, such as cable modems migrating from DOCSIS 3.0 to 3.1 to deliver faster download speeds. In addition, Wi-Fi devices have evolved to use more radios with more spatial streams and capabilities to deliver increased Wi-Fi capacity within the home. The New Feature Allowances Process provides the ability to define new features that may require additional power, which—in the case of small network equipment—allowed operators to roll out devices early to meet the increased demand due to COVID-19 when consumers needed it the most.
And, according to the recently released US SNE VA annual report, the energy consumption of these devices has remained stable, as demonstrated in the figure below.
In fact, the independent administrator for the voluntary agreements, D+R International, reported that the energy efficiency of integrated access devices (modems with Wi-Fi routers and/or embedded phone support) has improved by 70 percent since the beginning of the SNE VA in 2015.
The US SNE VA was also recognized by the Global Commission For Urgent Action on Energy Efficiency as an “Exemplar Policy” program in this recent report.
U.S. Set-Top Box Voluntary Agreement (US STB VA)
The US STB VA report also shared good news, finding that the national set-top box annual energy consumption has declined by 46 percent since the beginning of the VA in 2012, even as functionality and features of set-top boxes have improved.
The STB VA saved 14.7 TWh in 2019, which is nearly equivalent to the power generated by five coal-run power plants in a year, and saved consumers over $1.9 billion on their utility bills. This is enough electricity to power ALL the homes in California for a full 7 months!
Canadian Energy Efficiency Voluntary Agreement (CEEVA)
Even though CEEVA has been around for only 3 years, Canada is making great strides as well, as detailed in its most recent CEEVA Annual Report. The average weighted energy consumption of purchased set-top boxes has decreased by 44 percent over the 3 years that CEEVA has been in place. This significant decline is due to a number of reasons:
- Deployment of whole-home architectures that enable customers to view recorded content throughout the home with just one personal video recorder (PVR)
- Deployment of cloud-based recording that eliminates the need for any PVR in the home, and PVRs generally consume more power than non-PVRs
- Improvement in set-top box energy efficiency
As we reported in December 2019, Canada stood up a new CEEVA agreement for small network equipment that went into effect in 2020, but the first report won’t be out until next year.
CableLabs is proud to be part of these highly successful voluntary agreements that afford new innovative features, greater functionality and the capability to deliver high-quality services to consumers in an energy-efficient manner.
 Energy efficiency of network equipment is measured in terms of energy per consumed bit. In the US SNE VA report, the unit of measure is Watts/Mbps.
Another Year – Another Impressive Result for Voluntary Energy Initiatives
It’s that time again! Its annual report season for three very important voluntary energy efficiency initiatives in the US and Canada:
- The award-winning US Set-top Box Voluntary Agreement (US STB VA)
- The US Small Network Equipment Voluntary Agreement (US SNE VA)
- The Canadian Energy Efficiency Voluntary Agreement (CEEVA) for Set-top Boxes
What are voluntary agreements and why are they important?
Voluntary agreements are a collaborative industry initiative to reduce energy consumption and impact sustainability that result in energy savings much faster than other approaches, including direct government intervention. Voluntary agreements provide the flexibility to innovate on the platforms, drive efficiency gains and improve consumer experiences. All three voluntary agreements demonstrate the industry commitment to sustainability both in the US and Canada.
Here are some highlights for each agreement:
US Set-top Box Voluntary Agreement
The US Voluntary Agreement (VA) for Set-top Boxes released its fifth annual report last week, and the independent administrator, D+R International, found that the VA has far exceeded the original $1 billion annual savings estimations for the VA.
- In 2017 alone, the VA saved 11 terawatt hours (TWh) and saved consumers $1.4 billion dollars!
- Over the 5 years of the VA, it has saved a total of 27.8 TWh of energy and over $3.5 billion dollars for consumers.
- 8 TWh equates to CO2 avoidance of 20.6 million metric tons of CO2 emissions, the same as 4.4 million passenger cars driven for one year!
It’s worth noting that back in 2013 the Department of Energy was also working on a regulation for STB energy consumption, but terminated those proceedings in favor of this voluntary agreement. A regulation would not have gone into effect until 2018, and the VA has already saved nearly 30 TWh of energy during that timeframe!
In March of this year, the STB VA was renewed for another 4 years and established a more stringent set of allowances (Tier 3) that will achieve at least another 20% in energy savings.
Small Network Equipment Voluntary Agreement
The US Small Network Equipment VA third annual report found that energy efficiency trends are continuing as well. The SNE VA doesn’t have a national footprint estimate, but rather tracks the average weighted energy consumption of device categories relative to the increasing average broadband speeds. The most impressive aspect of the SNE industry is the continued growth in broadband speeds as well as in-home network support (e.g. better Wi-Fi, faster internet speeds) while continuing to deliver energy-efficient devices.
The other big news is the SNE VA was extended for another four years, with the timeframe aligned with the STB VA. The renewed SNE VA will run through 2021 with a final report to be published in 2022. It also defined a more rigorous Tier 2 set of allowances for SNE that will go into effect in 2020.
Canadian Energy Efficiency Voluntary Agreement
For 2017, STBs were required to comply with Tier 1 levels (the same Tier 1 as used in the US), and a full 100% of all new STBs purchased during the year met these levels.
The more demanding Tier 2 allowances went into effect for CEEVA at the beginning of 2018, but the report found that 86.4% of the 2017 units purchased already met Tier 2 levels. As this was the first year for the VA, the reported data will be used as a baseline for the following years’ reports.
CableLabs led the technical efforts for all of these voluntary agreements and is continuously innovating and researching new ways to reduce energy consumption in the network and consumer products. CableLabs and its subsidiary, Kyrio, are also ISO-17025 accredited to conduct the energy testing of set-top boxes and small network equipment and has supported this testing for a large number of signatories across the industry. We are proud to be part of these important initiatives which are saving energy, the environment, and money for consumers.
Want to Learn More?
CableLabs is hosting an Inform[ed] Webinar on this topic next week, August 22, at 11 AM EST. In our 2nd ever public webinar, Mark Hess, Senior Vice President of Comcast, and Doug Johnson, Vice President of the Consumer Technology Association, are joining me to discuss the details of the voluntary agreements above. We’ll demonstrate how collaborative industry-led initiatives have led to significant consumer savings, innovative new features, and a cleaner environment.