I studied the impact of the digital TV transition. If you're not already familiar, on 2/19/08 all analog TV signals will cease to exist. The interesting energy impact is that digital TV's, especially HDTV's, and the Digital-to-Analog (DTA) converters are energy hogs. But the problem with directly correlating the DTV Transition to energy consumption is that research shows that consumer behavior is trending towards DTV and HDTV anyways. Plus the majority of the population that is only receiving analog signals are predominantly poor, elderly & non-English speaking. Traditionally these groups are under fixed incomes, leading one to believe it is highly unlikely that they will run out and buy a flat screen TV from Best Buy.
That said if the 47 million households effected by the transition do purchase the DTA converter, the EPA and Energy Star estimates at least 3 Billion kWh/year. That's alone is quite a significant increase. Additionally if only 5 % of the population purchased a new TV, either a plasma, LCD or Rear Projection, the likely outcome would be approximately 3.5-4.5 billion kWh/year. So we're looking at a reasonably large demand considering our electric grids are already over used so it is fair to question policy that might lead citizens, either directly or indirectly towards consumer products that use more energy.
There is also an interesting environmental impact that I will not get into with any depth here, but do know that the average CRT TV has 4-8 lbs. of lead in it, so please don't just throw it out. There are recycling options, albeit limited, available so if you find yourself without a TV, take the time to properly dispose of it. Check out the Electronics Take Back Coalition for more details.
Lastly, there are some energy use benefits of the transition. First off if the bandwidth is used for what it is intended, a nationwide broadband, there should be additionally opportunities for tele-commuting, decreasing the transportation impact on energy consumption. Furthermore, digital media is going to become more and more prevalent as downloads, as opposed to a product one drives to the store or has physically delivered to one's home. Small impact on an individual scale, but again, depending upon consumer behaviors, could create large scale changes on the macro-level. e-Medicine is certainly a plus that might allow doctors to diagnosis patients from a distance, eliminating the need for patients in rural areas to commute to the doctor or vice versa.
All in all, the policy issue is muddled. There are certainly pros and there are certainly cons when it comes to the Digital Transition. From what I can find it is inconclusive although the potential energy impact is undeniable. I also think the environmental impact, considering the toxicity of the lead in the TV's, is of great concern. I intend to urge TV manufacturers to follow SONY's lead and institute a take-back program that allows the manufacturer to properly reuse/recycle/dispose of the product once it has reached the end of its usefulness.
And lastly, while this has little to do with the DTV Transition, I couldn't help but share Colbert's take on the ethanol induced food crisis. Enjoy.