Consumer electronics increase plug loads. With the constant barrage of gadgets, how could they not? Among these technologies are set-top boxes, or STBs. They are everywhere – and they’re always on, guzzling significant amounts of energy. In fact, based on our previous research, they have the fourth highest technical potential for energy savings among residential consumer electronics.
In 2014, Southern California Edison decided to explore the energy-saving potential of these products by working with Pay-TV providers to implement an experimental pilot in which customers would receive a free, energy-efficient STB to replace less efficient models. With the service providers’ assistance, the utility identified approximately 6,700 customers with inefficient STBs to participate. To support an experimental approach, SCE randomly assigned 3,000 customers to the control condition and 3,700 customers to the experimental condition.
Customers in the experimental condition received one or more calls from their service provider informing them of the benefits of upgrading to an ENERGY STAR® certified STB, mentioning SCE’s involvement with the offer, and offering them a replacement ENERGY STAR certified STB. Customers with multiple STBs had the option to upgrade to a central control server with small peripheral STBs (a “thin client”). If a customer opted for a central control server with thin client(s), the service provider included an additional monthly fee on the customer’s bill. The service provider(s) also offered one year of free high-definition (HD) for all standard definition customers in the experimental condition if they upgrade to an ENERGY STAR Version 3.0 HD STB.
What we did
From 2015 to 2016, we worked with SCE to assess the pilot. This included:
- Evaluating the performance of the pilot.
- Reviewing existing literature and data on the STB market in California and SCE territory.
- Estimating the energy savings potential of replacing less efficient STBs with energy-efficient models in SCE territory.
To meet these objectives, we analyzed the STB experimental pilot data, surveys with pilot participants, and reviewed publicly available STB data. We also assessed the potential energy savings for about a quarter of SCE’s STB installed base to identify the maximum number and type of STBs that could be distributed before the program experienced energy uptake.
We found that participants responded well to the pilot offering and were eager to replace their STBs with more efficient models. In fact, customers receiving the upgrade offer upgraded their STBs at an 11-times higher rate than the control group, increasing the baseline replacement rate of about 1% to 9% for those receiving the upgrade offer.
However, irrespective of pilot condition, customers increased the number of STBs in their household when they upgraded their STBs. This was likely due to the fact customers had an extra TV that did not have an STB, and chose to add an STB for that TV when making an upgrade. Participants also expressed reluctance to pay “extra” for the central server.
As a result, the STB pilot actually increased load. While the intervention had successfully led to the installation of more efficient equipment, customers in both conditions were equally likely to add an STB to their contract. In this case, the intervention sped up the natural behavior of adding an STB when making a change to their contract.
Based on these findings, we recommended a formal STB replacement program should incent customers to replace their existing boxes, but not offer incentives for any additional boxes they may wish to install as part of the upgrade. Our potential analysis revealed that to properly intervene in this market, utilities would need to heavily promote server and thin-client technology. Check our complete list of conclusions and recommendation in the full report.