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Tamminen: California Is At It Again

California is at it again.

TV
Photo by: William Hook
TV

State regulators just set energy efficiency standards for new TVs, mostly the big, flat-panel models that gulp kilowatts. As a result, consumers will save about $8 billion in the next decade in the form of lower electricity bills, while carbon pollution will drop by an amount equal to removing 100,000 cars from the road. As my dad used to say, “a penny saved is a penny earned” —so why doesn’t the Consumer Electronics Association, CEA, want you to get your share of that saved carbon or those 800,000,000,000 pennies?

The CEA fears that TV makers won’t be able to add more bells and whistles to future products, because such features might draw too much additional power. Given that I can already download every show, movie, and video game ever made—and control my entertainment center without leaving the couch—what else would next generation TVs do for me? Make and deliver the popcorn?

In fact, if past is prologue, this new regulation will drive innovation in the form of exciting new technologies that can be adapted for other products. Past California energy efficiency mandates have not only made Californians 40% more energy and carbon efficient than average Americans, they have also inspired the invention of things like laser printing, a process that is now used to “print” layers of materials onto thin film for making new transparent solar panels.

In response to California energy efficiency mandates that were first promulgated in the 1970s, companies like Hewlett-Packard designed the inkjet printer and within a decade were essentially printing money by selling the new technology to both businesses and consumers.

After seeing them in action, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Alan Heeger figured out that you could use the same process to combine thin layers of compounds that together create electricity when exposed to light. Now companies like Konarka and Energy Conversion Devices are printing their money on rooftops—laminating solar panels, the thickness of human hair, onto products like roof tiles and windows, turning entire buildings into solar energy power plants.

The Carbon Challenge - A CNBC Special Report - See Complete Coverage
The Carbon Challenge - A CNBC Special Report - See Complete Coverage

And this time, the energy misers in the Golden State are not alone in saving those pennies—the new TV regulations were supported by California’s investor owned utilities, including PG&E, Sempra , and Edison International , because it’s good for their bottom lines.

To reduce pollution and carbon, the state Public Utility Commission has long rewarded utilities for investing in energy efficiency. Watch now as they offer money to consumers to scrap old inefficient TVs (just as they now pay to scrap your old refrigerator or clothes dryer), because it reduces their need to build new power plants and actually increases their profits. They will likely earn billions more in valuable carbon credits when the western carbon market is launched in 2012 from those investments.

Yes, as Sen. Everett Dirksen used to say, “a billion here and a billion there and suddenly you’re talking real money.” If he were alive today, he’d be reminding us of that maxim—beamed into our living rooms on a new energy and carbon efficient TV.

Terry Tamminen, former Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, is a partner at Pegasus Sustainable Century Merchant Bank and the Cullman Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation. (Cracking The Carbon Code is a registered trademark of Terry Tamminen).

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