A New Shade of Green: Cinemas make eco-friendliness a priority
In our recent series of articles on the future and trends of the cinema market, the common denominator was the growing maturity around going digital. While exhibitors started adopting digital-projection technology 15 years ago, true fully digital workflows have been generally lagging. As a projector manufacturer, we experience the changing mindset every day based on the types of questions we get from our customers. Where initially these centered on performance metrics (“How much light does it generate?”), we now see a focus change to operational efficiencies (“How can I best integrate and automate my cinema workflow?”). Part of this conversation is the aspect of energy efficiency and eco-friendliness: Having the most lumens is no longer front of mind, but, linked to the broader TCO focus, power consumption and ecological footprint come into play. Is “green” the new “white” in cinema? And what does it take to design and operate a green projector? That is the topic of this article.
The world around us
Green product design and ecological awareness is not something new. Many markets outside cinema already have gone through complete maturation in this domain, often driven by government regulation. Let’s zoom in on an initiative that comes very close to the cinema market: the Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council with regard to ecodesign requirements for standby, networked standby and off-mode electric power consumption of electrical and electronic household and office equipment . This directive stipulates—amongst other things—an “Off mode power” of 0.3W and “Standby power” of 0.5W. “Networked standby” is specified at 2W. Being active in a world where 6kW lamps have been considered normal for many years and 10kW flagship laser projection systems have been deployed for a few years, these wattage numbers sound frighteningly low. The good news is that this directive does not enforce its rules on cinema projectors; it explicitly mentions “excluding projectors with mechanisms for exchanging the lenses with others with different focal length.” The “bad” news is that it impacts almost all other electrical appliances in our everyday life…and will actively do so by 2020.
This European legislation is not the only change happening. The Chinese government is also putting in place similar green rules. As part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (“the Paris Agreement”), other countries and governments will take action from 2020 onwards. The writing is on the wall that these regulations will impact a broader scope of products in the future, including cinema equipment and projectors.
What the market thinks of it
Cinemark, one of the world’s leading exhibitors, has been proactive in engaging in energy-efficiency projects to ensure that new and existing theatres meet their energy goals. When they were recognized with the Built Environment award in 2015, they stated: “As we continue to be diligent and proactive with our environmental projects, Cinemark’s energy savings will continue to rise as we work toward reducing our environmental footprint.”  That year, through its environmental sustainability program, Reel Green, they saved 41,570,375 kWh and $4.4 million through facility energy efficiency upgrades.
In a 2018 interview with Cinema Technology , Kathryn Pritchard, group chief people officer at The Odeon Group, stated: “Odeon has a major Corporate Social Responsibility strategy across all of its 14 territories, targeting three important promises: to become more inclusive through ‘Our Incredible Differences’ program, to reduce our carbon footprint, and to contribute more in our communities.” An example given was electricity consumption reduction by nearly 14%. Odeon was also rewarded the Carbon Trust Standard for Carbon, thanks to a 14.8% reduction in CO2 footprint.
There are clearly benefits to gain from going green. Cost savings due to lower energy consumption and waste is an attractive one. The numbers mentioned in the examples above show that the savings can be significant. The added brand value is as important, but harder to quantify. As consumers are confronted with more green initiatives in the world around them, moviegoers will also look for those efforts when choosing which cinema to visit. As an exhibitor, it is no longer a topic that can be ignored. The good news is that taking steps in the right direction is not difficult: In the next paragraph, we will explain how Barco helps as a projector manufacturer
The green projector
Introducing energy savings and stepping up ecological operations is of course not only a matter of the projector. Material re-use (in concessions) and building management are as important to consider. Barco has an online white paper that talks about HVAC for lamp and laser cinema projectors and how to optimize this for performance, lifetime and TCO . In this article, we will zoom in specifically on the digital cinema projector and how it can contribute.
1. Electro-optical efficiency: This metric quantifies how efficient a projector is in creating light-out-of-the-lens from electricity-out-of-the-wall. The transition from lamp- to laser-based projectors has introduced a major step forward here, with efficiencies that are more than double compared to the equivalent lamp model. Looking, for example, at a popular mainstream 20,000-lumens cinema projector, the lamp model consumed around 5.2kW. The equivalent (form-fit-function compatible) laser-based model only requires 2.8kW. At a typical electricity cost of $0.15 per kWh and 4,000 operational hours per year, this yields (not even taking into account the cost of lamp swaps) a $1,440 cost saving per year. When you start scaling that to a multiplex, across a complete chain, the impact is massive.
2. We did an analysis of what the consequences for the European cinema market could be. Taking into account the screen size mix in Europe—and hence the mix between high, medium and low-brightness projectors—and the screening hours, we found that a mind-blowing 700GWh is consumed per year by European cinema projectors! Yes, that is Giga Watt hours! If we would replace every lamp-based cinema projector with its equivalent laser-illuminated version, this number would drop by 150GWh. That is the equivalent production of a small nuclear power plant in one month! Note that if we did the same for the worldwide cinema market, results would be between three to five times higher!
3. Eco mode: In the calculation above, we zoomed in on the 4,000 hours per year that a typical cinema projector is running and actually screening movies. This is an average that does not take into account what the projector is doing in between screenings. What happens overnight (between the last screening of the day and the next screening of the following morning) varies: Either the complete setup is shut off (there are exhibitors that close down after the last screening by turning off the main power) or the electronics are kept running. The latter case is typically to allow for backend processes such as ingests or updates to happen overnight. What happens in between screenings (between the first and the last of the day) also varies: Either the light source stays on (advised for lamps when the break is short—lamps need time to cool down and can show wear from each strike) or is shut off (no problem with laser light sources, independent of the duration of the break). In any case, the projector electronics typically stays on. When looking at the power consumption of a projector with only its electronics on, you are looking at a 300W-500W number. Even in what is defined as “sleep mode,” such a system hardly gets below 10W. If we look back at the below 1W numbers that are being imposed by regulations on other electronic devices, there is a big gap to cross.
4. Reusable modules: Of a different type and often overlooked is the ability to reuse certain modules on the projector as part of its scheduled maintenance cycle. The two most obvious ones are air filters and cooling liquid. Barco projectors all have reusable air filters: The service technician can easily blow, vacuum and/or rinse these out and put the same module back in the projector. This is not only the most eco-efficient approach; feedback from customers with a mixed installed base confirms that it is also the most cost-efficient. The same applies to the internal cooling liquid: Where older designs required a regular refill or replacement of cooling liquid, it is today perfectly possible to design a projector to run its entire lifetime without worrying about that.
Looking at the evolving trends around and inside the cinema market, there is a growing importance of energy-efficient and eco-friendly product design. This not only yields potential cost savings for exhibitors, but also an opportunity to take it along in their branding. Consisting of many contributors, “running green” can be impacted significantly by a proper projector selection. Things like wall-plug efficiency, eco-mode power consumption and reusability of modules are enablers that exist today. However, looking at where the bar is being placed in other markets, cinema will have to step up as well. As an exhibitor, you should reach out to your equipment suppliers and not only talk about the green colors onscreen, but also about how they can help support your green value proposition.