A digital ad screen in a bus shelter.

The electricity cost of digital adverts

Adblock Bristol have been researching the energy waste associated with digital advertising developments.

digital Bus stop “6 sheet” adverts

After an application to install a double-sided digital advert screen in Central Bristol, we discovered that the unit would use more electricity to power for a full year than 4 homes! Not only is this development going ahead, but there are also many more similar installations around the city.

Based on the figures outlined below

According to the technical specification submitted as part of the planning application, the maximum consumption of this double-sided unit uses up to 1920W of electricity, or 16,819 kWh for a full year of operation. Digital advertising screens are illuminated year-round and through the night.

Technical specification taken from the planning documents

We’ve gathered information about the average electricity consumption of UK homes from these articles by Ovo, British Gas and UK Power. For our calculations, we have used the highest figure which is from Ovo, and estimates an average UK household electricity consumption of 3760 kWh per year.

Based on these figures, we can see that the electricity used by just one double-sided bus stop advert unit – to push unnecessary sales of items like junk food, fizzy drinks, new cars, fast fashion and the latest consumer craze – is more than 4 times that needed to power the average household.

digital billboards

The following information was gathered from a recent application to install a 6.4 m x 3.1 m digital billboard in South Bristol, with an advertising screen of nearly 20 square metres.

JC Decaux applied for permission to install this Daktronics unit. Below is a snapshot of the technical specification submitted, which details the power requirements of the unit as being between 4752 – 15840 W.

Therefore, a year of operation at the typical level would use 41,000 kWh of electricity: more than 11 UK households. The maximum potential electricity wasted by this development – if it was running for a full year at maximum output – would be 138,758 kWh… more than enough to power 36 homes!

These outrageous figures do not even start to consider the energy requirements of constructing or installing the display units, or the carbon footprint of the items they try to sell. Despite this, applications often disingenuously suggest that digital billboards are better for the environment than static ones, because they reduce the need to print posters.

Not only are digital adverts bad for our mental health, our local economy, and our physical wellbeing, they are disastrous for our environment; both due to their perpetuation of the drive to consume needlessly, and the damage that entails, and the tremendous amount of electricity they waste.

Learning more…

Lack of clarity around electricity consumption of digital advertising screens is an ongoing challenge to our efforts to understand the environmental implications of these developments. Not all applications contain details of electricity consumption, and details are hard to find. If you have information about the power usage of digital advert screens, please get in touch via hello@adfreecities.org.uk.

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6 thoughts on “The electricity cost of digital adverts

  1. Truly amazing.
    Electric kettle is 2000W and this is the most consuming unit in the house (apart from el. boilers or stoves).

    In fact 5W LED is a powerful light source and we are talking about 200 of them each side, it would be blinding…

    Might it be that this max consumption is:
    a) anticondensing heating included (not always turned on)?
    b) inrush current wrongly given as max current?
    c) LED cooling done wrong?

    Would expect city/owner now defending the ads by showing actual consumption.
    – is it available?

  2. This probably won’t be published, as I am stating an opposing viewpoint.

    1. as posited by the previous comment, these numbers are probably inflated for maximum negative impact.

    2. Even if they aren’t, why should it be a problem if corporations are willing to pay for the electricity to run these things? Surely, nobody believes that should they not be allowed, the difference overall will significantly reduce the carbon footprint caused by the electric companies.

    3. The hyperbole states “…Not only are digital adverts bad for our mental health, our local economy, and our physical wellbeing, they are disastrous for our environment; both due to their perpetuation of the drive to consume needlessly, and the damage that entails…”. Think about it; is our mental health affected by these ads? Better stop watching the telly, then!
    How, exactly, are they bad for or local economy? Does anyone really believe that the advert boards, alone, will change anyone’s desire if and where to purchase something?
    “Physical well-being”? Come on! The only scenario I can envisage is that someone is so enraptured by the content on the advert boards, that they walk into something, which might teach them a lesson to look where they’re going! There are some viral video clips of people doing just that while texting or are engrossed with their smart phones, & that just gets a chuckle, not an impassioned plea to ban smartphones!
    Then, “the drive to consume needlessly”. That has been the intention of large corporations since the early 1900’s. Who in their right mind thinks that stopping the production of these advert boards is going to bring the desire to a screeching halt?? And, has anyone thought of the loss of jobs such a move would entail?
    So, just an opposing viewpoint that will probably never see the light of day.

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