Home PublicationsCommentary The EU’s New Energy Efficiency Standards Will Lead to an Effective Ban on 8K TVs, With Negative Knock-On Effects

The EU’s New Energy Efficiency Standards Will Lead to an Effective Ban on 8K TVs, With Negative Knock-On Effects

by Eva Behrens

The EU’s updated Energy Efficiency Index (EEI) for 8K resolution displays will come into effect on March 1, 2023. The intention of the law is to reduce energy consumption by incentivizing producers to develop more energy-efficient TVs and consumers to purchase energy-efficient products. However, the regulation will effectively ban the sale of state-of-the-art 8K TVs and displays in the European Economic Area. Prohibiting the sale of an entire range of products will reduce consumer welfare, harm global innovation, and have virtually no impact on global warming.

The EEI’s letter-based grading system to classify devices’ energy consumption is a good idea because consumers understand it more intuitively than technological specifications. The idea is that many consumers will want to choose more efficient products to save energy and money. For example, the new EU energy label on every TV will display a QR code that, when scanned, will direct consumers to a label database of the European Commission, containing information about the TV’s energy efficiency and consumption. So far, so good.

However, as drafted, the EEI will prohibit EU residents from purchasing the next generation of HD TVs. The updated EEI defines an upper limit of energy each display can consume, depending on its size. Devices that overshoot that limit are banned from the European market. According to the 8K Association, a nonprofit association of electronics companies, EU lawmakers defined the power consumption limits for 8K displays based on data gathered from displays that entered the market between 2012 and 2017. Now, five years later, it is apparent that these estimates were too optimistic about the speed of technological innovation that would make LED displays more energy efficient. And at this time and in the foreseeable future, all 8K TVs will overshoot this boundary, effectively preventing EU consumers from purchasing them.

This de-facto ban is problematic for several reasons. The regulation not only limits consumer choices, it also prohibits other entities that provide vital services to EU citizens, like medical imaging facilities, science institutions, and museums, from accessing higher-resolution 8K HD displays that are likely to improve their work. The new EEI regulation would also lower the global demand for 8K displays by eliminating the European market. Decreasing companies’ revenue reduces their potential to invest in R&D that could make their products more energy-efficient. Lastly, this ban would incentivize tech companies and content creators who rely on viewers having access to high-quality devices to diversify away from Europe and seek more reliable consumer bases elsewhere. The damage to the EU’s reputation as a place to do business could be long-term. The EU is already lagging behind global competitors in the ICT sector. Instead of actively making the situation worse by setting unrealistic standards and banning a whole class of appliances, the EU should foster innovation by incentivizing companies to overcome technological challenges.

However, the fundamental problem with this restriction on 8K TVs is that it would do little to reduce overall energy usage to address climate change. While 8K TVs use around twice as much energy as 4K TVs, as a fraction of overall household energy usage, it is very small (and as a fraction of total energy consumption, it is minuscule). The EU could achieve the same effect by telling consumers to watch less TV. Moreover, with no other nations set to impose these types of restrictions on 8K TVs, the EU’s ban looks more like moral grandstanding than effective climate policy.

If EU lawmakers want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they should focus on clean energy innovation to bring costs down and useability up so that the entire world will have an economic incentive to transition to clean energy, which is lacking now. Tiny, largely symbolic, EU-only regulations of higher energy consumption products and practices will do virtually nothing to solve climate change and may make things worse by leading people to think that these kinds of “solutions” will actually work, diverting efforts from the solutions that are truly needed.

Lawmakers could also leverage consumer demand to encourage the tech sector to develop more energy-efficient 8K TV technology. Consumers, who seek to save money, will naturally prefer energy-efficient devices, especially as the energy crisis in Europe drives prices up, and may be willing to spend slightly more on a more efficient model. However, if the product is banned, consumers will not be able to express their preferences through their choices, so producers are in the dark regarding their customers’ wishes. Instead, rather than ban 8K TVs—a technology that is likely to be widespread at some point in the future—the regulation should focus on energy labeling, something that will spur producers to develop more energy-efficient TVs.

EU lawmakers have an opportunity to review the new EEI criteria before the end of 2022. They should take this opportunity to revise the power consumption limits to make them technologically feasible and allow for 8K resolution displays to be sold in the EU. While the EU may still want to regulate energy usage of inefficient devices in its efforts to transition to net-zero emissions, it should not prevent entirely new classes of products from coming to market.

Image credit: Unsplash

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