Yes, your plasma-screen television will use more electricity. A lot more

This is mostly for the Australians. I noticed in today’s Sydney Morning Herald a story about how much more expensive it is to run a plasma-screen television:

smh plasma tv

Plasma televisions are sending home power bills sky high as more people install bigger and more energy-intensive screens.

Electric hot-water systems remain the No.1 energy guzzler in the home but plasma TVs are fast overtaking refrigerators and freezers as a greenhouse gas culprit, with poorly performing sets adding as much as $100 to electricity bills, energy experts say.

I see a problem there: the clever graphic employed by the SMH suggests a AUD42 p.a. energy bill, not AUD100 – where did that figure come from? Also, even at AUD100 I think we disagree on the working definition of “sky high”.

In any event, God help us if this is news to you, seriously. I use stories about this for homework for my undergraduate economics students. From the Guardian/Observer:

Our insatiable appetite for the big picture is threatening the planet. A scientist has warned that if half of British homes buy a plasma-screen TV, two nuclear power stations would have to be built to meet the extra energy demand.

They also discuss the fact that a plasma-screen TV is likely to be a component in a digital entertainment network made up of DVD players/recorders, Playstations and who knows what else, which makes the energy load much greater, even when everything is on stand-by (don’t leave your appliances on stand-by, folks, they still use plenty of power. Moreso flat-screen TVs. If you work in an office/building, switch off every monitor you see on your way out the door at night).

The starting-point for my homework question is discussed, a little bit, in this article – that there is no regulation, in the form of ratings, governing televisions. We actually discuss what is needed in a broader sense (it’s Principles of Economics, after all). If there is that great an energy use, and that great a contribution to environmental degradation, then there is a social cost that isn’t being carried by the price of the televisions, and the government should tax plasma-screen TVs, to reflect that (or should they?). In the process it will bring the sales of them down, etc.

The other argument is market-based, that if the costs of running these electrical goods is higher, demand will falls anyway, market pressures will insist upon higher energy-efficiency levels, etc. There will be no need for the government to intervene. The problems? People already own the ‘bad’ televisions, and will do for 5 years or more. If however they dumped it and bought some newer, ‘good’ television that used less energy, the load required would fall, but there’d be another television’s worth of harmful plastics and metals being picked apart by some child in a landfill in China somewhere. So…

On the other hand, taxation can be a problem also. If people will respond like this to the higher operating costs, surely they would not have been able to afford the significantly-more-expensive television in the first place? Was it purchased on credit? Was it purchased because some social effect is so high that the willingness-to-pay for one of these things becomes much greater? Probably a bit of both, in which case a tax will not have a significant effect on demand, unless it is set so high that it is immediately seen as the government keeping working-class people from having a rich man’s television.

In this instance I favour a rating system, which is almost command-and-control, but not quite. People – thanks to whitegoods – understand energy ratings. As long as plasma-screen televisions can achieve high ratings, such a system will work. If none of them bother trying for more than one or two stars, it won’t work and the government will need to get tougher (‘need’ defined as strongly as the government feels inclined to act, of course).

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