oksana2010/Shutterstock

That innocuous little device atop your TV has a surprisingly large carbon footprint. 

Game of Thrones is about a collection of power-hungry individuals. This, it turns out, is appropriate. Because the machines many people use to experience the show—cable boxes, allowing live and time-shifted viewing—are themselves collections of power-hungry individuals. Set-top boxes, the Los Angeles Times reports, are shockingly greedy energy-guzzlers. There are approximately 224 million of them in the United States, dotted across the nation's living rooms and bedrooms and taprooms. And, combined, they consume approximately the same amount of electricity as would be produced by four nuclear reactors—enormous ones, running around the clock.

The boxes have become, the Times writes, "the biggest single energy user in many homes, apart from air conditioning."

That's because they are, unlike Game of Thrones viewers, extremely bad at enjoying some downtime. The boxes don't just consume power when you're using them; they also suck up energy when they're turned off. That's in turn because there's a whole mess of work being done under the boxes' casing: spinning hard drives, program guide updates, software downloads, all going on in the background. To the extent that "the devices," the Times puts it, "use nearly as much power turned off as they do when they are turned on." 

You could actually unplug the boxes to stop all that work from being done ... but then, of course, you'd have to reboot the machine. And you know what that requires? Yep: energy. 

All in all, a set-top cable box with a DVR can consume as much as 35 kilowatt hours a month—meaning that it alone can account for $8 a month in electric bills (at least, that's according to reporting coming from the Times, for a Southern California consumer). Which is "a classic case of market failure," Andrew McAllister, a member of the California Energy Commission, tells the Times. "The consumers have zero information and zero control over the devices they get."

This story originally appeared on The Atlantic

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of Andrew Field, the owner of Rockaway Taco, looking out from his store in the Rockaway Beach neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York.
    Life

    Tacos and Transit: Rate Your City

    From taco-rich San Diego to the tortilla wastelands of Boston, we asked you to grade U.S. cities on two critical metrics: Mexican food and public transportation.

  2. A photo of shoppers in the central textile market of downtown Jakarta.
    Design

    How Cities Design Themselves

    Urban planner Alain Bertaud’s new book, Order Without Design, argues that cities are really shaped by market forces, not visionaries.

  3. A photo of a man sitting on a bench in East Baltimore.
    Equity

    Why Is It Legal for Landlords to Refuse Section 8 Renters?

    San Jose and Baltimore are considering bills to prevent landlords from rejecting tenants based on whether they are receiving federal housing aid. Why is that necessary?

  4. The opulent anteroom to a ladies' restroom at the Ohio Theatre, a 1928 movie palace in Columbus, Ohio.
    Design

    The Glamorous, Sexist History of the Women’s Restroom Lounge

    Separate areas with sofas, vanities, and even writing tables used to put the “rest” in women’s restrooms. Why were these spaces built, and why did they vanish?

  5. Montreal skyline from top of Mount Royal on a fall afternoon
    Equity

    Reading Between The Lines of Montreal’s ‘Cheap’ Rents

    Compared to Toronto and Vancouver, Montreal’s real estate market looks enviable—but its rents are shaped by factors other cities can’t replicate.