Due to the ongoing Fukushima disaster, Japan today has but 17 of its 54 nuclear reactors online (a little less than one-third). Nuke dependent Japan--30% of its electric power is nuclear--had to act quickly. In greater Tokyo, the target is a 15% reduction in electricity use during weekday hours of 9 am to 8 pm. Conservation targets mandated by the shutdowns have were met and exceeded, according to a report by Norimitsu Onishi in the New York Times.
Surprise, surprise (for everyone but your parents or grandparents): conservation works. Why is "do more with less" the slogan for everything but electricity?
US nuclear power plants generated 807 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2010, close to 20% of the total. What if we took two-thirds of US nukes offline? We'd lose a little less than 14% of all electricity generated or about 532 billion kWh/year.
How might we survive that loss? One big step would be to unplug (not merely turn off) our televisions and their associated cable and satellite boxes.
A recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that a high definition cable/satellite set-top box plus a high definition digital video recorder (DVR) together used 10% more juice than an efficient 21-cubic-foot refrigerator. This is without counting the television. This is an extraordinary finding. Refrigerators were the largest household electricity suck for decades.
The problem is hyped a bit by the NRDC study's methodology. More and more folks with DVRs these days have them as built-in components of their set-top boxes (a recent development; just a few years ago DVRs were exclusively stand-alone), although percentage estimates differ.
NRDC goes on to complain about the lousy design of set-top boxes, which use two-thirds of their electricity when turned off. So much for EPA's Energy Star standards. Naturally, there are superior European designs that reduce consumption by 95%.
NRDC would have televisual entertainment consume less electricity, an eminently sensible goal. But let's push a little harder than NRDC (generally not very difficult). We can also try to be fairer with assumptions while at the same time engineering an eye-opening mash up.
A.C. Nielsen Company claims that 99% of American households have at least one television. The "average household" contains 2.24 TVs. Sixty-six percent of households have three or more televisions. Televisions are on about seven hours per day in the "average" US home.
The Census Bureau reckons there are about 312 million persons in the US. Given the Nielsen stats, and the popularity of sports bars, let's assume everyone has their own television. But what kind of TV? Let's go with the one that appears in a comparative graph in the NRDC report: an "Energy Star Version 4.1 42" LCD TV model."
It takes 181 kWh per year to power the 42-incher, according to NRDC. Let's couple it to a combined HD-DVR set-top box that requires 275 kWh to keep on for a year. With the advent of "multi-room set-top box configurations," it's no longer the case that each boob tube requires it's own set-top box. NRDC believes there are some 160 million set-top boxes currently in use in the US. Let's do the math (this calculation omits video games consoles, and all the other devices we connect to our televisions):
(312,000,000 televisions) x (181 kWh/year) = 56,472,000,000 kWh/year
(160,000,000 HD DVR set-top boxes) x (275 kWh/year) = 44,000,000,000 kWh/year
56,472,000,000 kWh/year + 44,000,000,000 kWh/year = 100,472,000,000 kWh/year.