How do we make the AV industry energy efficient?

With energy costs on the rise, AV professionals are casting a critical eye on the power consumption of the technologies they buy, manage and supply. Reece Webb explores how products can be made more efficient.

Energy prices are increasing across the globe, driven in part by price hikes due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While skyrocketing inflation threatens the operation of businesses around the globe, companies need effective ways to manage rising costs.

That's a major reason why energy efficiency is a topic that is rapidly creeping up the agenda of many end users, integrators and manufacturers. Add to that a drive to reduce carbon footprints, and it's clear to see why there’s a spotlight on the energy efficiency of products and concerns around products that consume the most energy.

Conversations with integrators have revealed that audio amplifiers and LED displays are some of the biggest consumers of energy in most applications. These products are often employed in 24/7 operation, using high amounts of energy to keep the product running and sufficiently cooled.

But why are these products such power guzzlers? One of the big drivers, especially for LED, is heat inefficiency. LED screens generate a sizeable about of heat due to their high light output, but this heat build-up is also caused by components working in the background such as driver ICs and power supplies.

Jessica Golding, European brand and marketing director, Absen, explains: “A lot of end users are saying that they can’t have 24/7 running OOH digital displays and some displays can only be on at certain times of the day to save money and energy, to make sure there is enough to go around. I think we’re going to be in a position where offices are not going to want to spend lots of money putting on a 24-hour screen when it’s not in use and people are not in the office.

"There are displays that need to be on all the time, but we need to be smarter about how we use products." - Jessica Golding, Absen 

“I think a lot of people will start rationing in that way to save money and promote energy efficiency. There are displays that need to be on all the time, but we need to be smarter about how we use products.”

On the audio side, amplifiers find themselves as the biggest consumers of power. These products, by their very nature, require a lot of energy to function and also produce waste heat.

Money saving and encouraging an environmentally friendly approach play integral roles in the development of products as Francesco Fanicchi, corporate and marketing communication manager, Powersoft, clarifies: “Everybody wants to save money and the green aspect is high on the agendas of many. We have, since the beginning, strived to work with the goal of ensuring power efficiency, especially in audio amplifiers. The job of the amplifier is to power audio equipment, hence why it consumes a lot of power.”

But it’s not just how products are designed that leads to high energy consumption. The problem also lies with how products are used.

“The main loss of energy [with amplifiers] is caused by idle power consumption of various equipment. If you have things like computers or audio amplifiers, then they are often just sat idle, doing nothing but consuming power,” says Aki Mäkivirta, R&D director, Genelec.

“Unless a product can go to an energy-saving sleep mode, then there is no alternative. IT equipment, for example, is increasing in power consumption because the power of computation is going up. With semiconductors, the lithography is getting smaller which intrinsically saves power; but at the same time, power consumption is increasing [due to increased computation power] so there is not an equal trade off here.”

Photo credit: Sunshine Studio/Shutterstock.com 

For amplifiers, the development of Class D amplification has heralded a step in the right direction towards greater energy efficiency, tackling the issue of wasted heat energy by converting it into a usable source of energy.

Fannichi: “The technology of our amplifiers allows us to tie heat dissipation into a power bank, reusing the energy for electro-acoustic waves, that’s why we’re using less cooling control compared to other manufacturers, this is enabled through Class D amplification which has been an industry standard since 1995.”

Mäkivirta adds: “The power consumption of a Class A-C amplifier is significant. When we talk about Class D amplification, you have a higher ability to be very efficient with your use of power and you can actively start saving power in your systems as a result. Genelec has focused on designing active products that are efficient and add in an ability for the customer to adjust and control how the system is supposed to behave.

“[Making a more efficient product] can affect the price, however. If you want to do this effectively, then your design becomes more complex and there is more engineering work to be done, so there is a relationship between the cost of building a product and the intelligence/efficiency that can be achieved.”

From a monitoring point of view, options are available to limit energy consumption as Rainer Stiehl, vice president of marketing, Extron, explained: “We see expanded interest in reducing operational expenses converged with increasingly higher energy costs. It is advantageous to improve the visibility of energy consumption.

"The industry would be doing itself a great favour if it held up the values of efficient use of resources." - Aki Mäkivirta, Genelec 

Typically, this can include approaches such as daylight harvesting or even passive heating and cooling of a building. However, the impact of video and audio systems have historically been marginalised.”

In addition to offering systems and tools to monitor and manage energy usage, Extron also makes sure its own products contribute to efficiency and sustainability.

“We evaluate new technologies and components, and stresstest designs to find ways to make our power supplies even better,” Stiehl says. “One recent technological advance in electronic component manufacturing is the use of Gallium Nitride – GaN. This next-generation material has begun replacing silicon as the material of choice when manufacturing semiconductors. Benefits include improved power efficiency and lower operating temperatures, which also increases the reliability and MTBF of our already-dependable power supplies even further.”

Money matters

Developing products that are more energy efficient can often be an uphill battle. Additional research and development often means that more components will be required to maximise the energy efficiency of a product, conversely pushing product prices up but saving money on energy consumption in the long term.

Golding explains: “We’ve spent a lot of money on research and development to make our products more efficient. Our team designed a fanless product for example that uses less energy. But there’s a lot of elements that needed to go into that to design it. With products like these, you will save money in the long run through energy savings, which can be a frustrating conversation because it’s very hard to get a quick and immediate fix.”

Fannichi concurs: “When you buy a product, you should also consider the return on investment. Sometimes, a person can go for a cheaper product, but this can cost more in the long term because of maintenance and high energy costs. It’s better to spend a bit more to achieve 40% less energy consumption.

“It’s always tough to talk about energy saving with amplifiers as you are talking about a product that can deliver 40,000W over eight channels, but it’s good to know that if you need that power then you can save money on bills using a product with more efficient energy usage. It’s something that should be seriously taken into account.”

Photo credit: rawf8/Shutterstock.com

The question of pricing is an important factor for both integrators and end users to consider. Many companies and individuals are increasingly aware of their carbon footprint and with rising energy bills, that question is becoming more important than ever.

As prices increase, what becomes more important? A cheaper product that offers short-term savings in cash? Or a potentially more expensive product that saves money in the long run?

Mäkivirta adds: “One of the fundamental questions is ‘are customers willing to pay additional money for environmental friendliness of the products that they are using?’ This is a difficult question, as some companies are becoming more ecoconscious and that focus is increasing. We have a harder nut to crack when it comes to individual consumers and price is a very significant factor in all of this.”

Come together? 

The AV industry is home to a lot of standards, but a standard for energy efficiency across the board is lacking in the pro-AV world. While some companies are attempting to implement their own green initiatives, the playing field remains uneven. What approach should be taken to bring energy efficiency standards to the forefront of the industry?

Should this approach be handled industry-wide or on a company-by-company basis? “There is no AV industry standard for audio energy efficiency” says Fannichi, “There are labels such as Energy Star that you can use, but it is targeted towards the consumer market, not the professional. It doesn’t make much sense to use this, especially for products such as amplifiers because they cannot be run on a low level of power.

“There is also the LEED building standard [to improve efficiency and lower carbon emissions] but there is nothing tailor made for this industry, there is no third-party board to prove energy efficiency of a product. It would be good to have a third-party organisation that can monitor this, especially given the situation we are in now, focused on energy efficiency and the green agenda.”

“The industry wide approach would be useful, as you have the same rules for everybody”, says Mäkivirta. “This tends to motivate companies more as it’s not a question of calculating how much you could earn or lose by focusing on energy efficiency. The industry would be doing itself a great favour if it held up the values of efficient use of resources and smarter use of energy, this would be a win for everybody in the long run.”

From a manufacturer perspective, maintaining control of every aspect of production can assist in creating energy-efficient products. Stiehl says: “Engineers must consider each specified component and how it impacts the overall energy footprint of the product. As energy efficiency standards evolve, it can become a bigger challenge to meet the new requirements. It can be simplified by retaining complete control over a product’s design, from individual components and chips to the design of the power supply.

It is not uncommon for a manufacturer to implement third-party internal or external power supplies into a product or to use standardised power supply designs. By designing and manufacturing our own products and power supplies, we are able to retain complete mastery of energy efficiency.”

Golding closes: “Like many topics that the AV industry is faced with, everybody needs to do their bit and also work together as a combined force. We’re not the only LED manufacturer in this industry, so we all need to play our part as an individual company and join forces as an industry to address this issue.”

Main photo credit: petrmalinak/Shutterstock.com

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