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Balance of Power

Low energy costs and falling prices are on your side if you choose LCDs over CRTs.
November 1, 2001
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/45298

Rising electricity costs and falling prices for LCDs (liquid crystal displays) have reached the point where these slimline screens can now be considered mainstream alternatives to the ubiquitous CRT (cathode-ray tube). LCDs can also help keep a lid on your office electric bill. The typical LCD requires a quarter to a third of the electricity needed to power up and cool down a comparable CRT.

Switching to LCDs could make a noticeable difference not only in your budget, but also in the national power supply. Experts estimate that replacing only a tenth of the CRTs in service could save enough juice to avoid brownouts, blackouts and other electrical problems during periods of peak demand.

In terms of aesthetics and functionality-size, weight, resolution, brightness, color quality-it's hard to name an advantage that traditional monitors have over LCDs. The principal attraction of the pervasive CRT has been its low price-an advantage whose days are numbered.

The prices of 15- to 18-inch LCDs have been cut in half since the beginning of the year. Today, the typical 15-inch display-the viewing equivalent of the popular 17-inch monitor-costs less than $500. (For a look at current models, check out this month's "Buyer's Guide" column.) Of course, CRT prices continue to fall as well, making it tempting to outfit your office with another generation of dirt-cheap CRTs. But price is not the whole story-what about rising electricity costs?

You Do the Math

When you add in the costs to run and cool these devices to their respective price tags, the total cost of ownership (TCO) for LCDs becomes slightly less than what you'd spend on comparable CRTs. Your individual savings will vary with equipment selected, local power costs and other variables. Use our TCO calculator online and see for yourself how the inputs for your individual business affect results.

Let's assume a "typical" office has 10 displays, each used for 2,600 hours per year (10 hours per day, 5 days per week for 52 weeks) for four years, and the electricity costs 15.66 cents per kilowatt-hour. Under those conditions, you'd save about $1,000 just on the power it takes to run 15-inch LCDs instead of the typical 17-inch CRTs.

You can save another $1,000 on the power it takes to cool LCDs compared to relatively hot-running CRTs. That's a separate calculation, but one directly related to the watts used by each device. To avoid confusion, we did those calculations in another spreadsheet and just plugged the appropriate cooling factors into the TCO calculator.

For a detailed look at inputs under slightly less-conservative assumptions, check out the TCO calculator located at NEC-Mitsubishi Electronics' Web site (www.necmitsubishi.com/marketssolutions/tco/nec_tco.html). Both calculators show only moderate savings with LCDs at present, although they'll increase as power prices rise and LCD prices fall. Likewise, you'll find that the larger the CRT you replace with an LCD, the greater the savings.

One cost we didn't include: the amortized cost of purchasing enough air-conditioning equipment to cool your monitors. NEC-Mitsubishi estimates that three times the A/C equipment is needed for monitors in our scenario, and switching could add thousands in savings to a small office. But we couldn't duplicate the research, so we left those savings out of our calculator.

One thing we do know for sure is that LCDs could have a significant beneficial impact on the national energy picture. Even in the worst-hit state, California, the difference between business as usual and rolling blackouts is only 1.5 percent of peak afternoon demand. According to calculations by Photon Dynamics, a San Jose, California, manufacturer of display measurement equipment, the state's 50 million CRTs require 10 times that amount-or about 6,000 megawatts of the state's power supply during peak load times. Charles Annis of Photon Dynamics figures that if only 10 percent of CRTs in the state were replaced with LCDs, California could avoid power alerts during even the hottest days of the year. Don't live in California? Unfortunately, your power does-all the nation's regional power grids are connected, so a meltdown in California could trigger power shortages elsewhere.

Although manufacturers have been reporting brisk LCD sales as a result of the price cuts, it will be a while before enough LCDs replace CRTs to make a difference in the national power picture. In the meantime, LCDs can help reduce your company's vulnerability to a variable cost that no one seems to have a handle on. Clearly, there's more to consider than just price when shopping for displays these days.


Mike Hogan is Entrepreneur's technology editor. Write him at mhogan@entrepreneur.com.