Meet the Honorees: Debbie Fitzgerald, Principal Architect & Director of Tech Policy, CableLabs

by | Feb 4, 2022

The Environment+Energy Leader honoree program is an annual list that recognizes the environment and energy “doers” who break trail in creating new solutions, programs, platforms, best practices and products to help their companies – or other companies – achieve greater success in commercial and industrial environment and energy management. Meet the Honorees… is an ongoing series that will feature one E+E Honoree from 2022 each week. See the complete list of 2022 Honorees here.

Meet Debbie Fitzgerald, principal architect and director of tech policy with CableLabs, where she leads the technical development and execution of the energy efficiency voluntary agreements for consumer premises equipment, including set-top boxes, and small network equipment such as modems and Wi-Fi routers for the US and Canada. This involves many activities, Debbie says, including:

  • Leading technical work groups of industry operators and manufacturers to define feature allowance levels.
  • Negotiating agreements with energy efficiency advocates and regulators.
  • With the Consumer Technology Association, defining the ANSI-accredited test methods for STBs and SNE (I chair the CTA work group for the STB test method).
  • Working within CableLabs to define energy efficient protocols to reduce energy consumption in cable communications systems (RF, optical, Wi-Fi), and working to ensure energy efficiency is considered up front in protocol design and not an afterthought.
  • Supporting the VA signatories’ annual reporting efforts, including developing detailed reporting templates and thoroughly reviewing the independent aggregator reports.

In addition, Debbie manages the test activities conducted by subsidiary Kyrio, which conducts ISO-17025-accredited testing of the devices for the industry. “At times, I’ll be in the lab conducting tests to ascertain energy consumption at the feature level, or even conducting these formal tests for Kyrio to make sure the test methods we develop are reliable and repeatable,” Debbie explains.

What are some of your biggest energy management challenges, and how are you addressing them?

DF: It’s always challenging to introduce upgrades and improvements to the network infrastructure without disruption to the millions of existing customers. Furthermore, customers demand faster internet speeds and better Wi-Fi coverage year over year. In this dynamic market, it is critical to have programs in place that can keep pace with the rapid technical advances without constraining innovation. Our voluntary agreements provide the flexibility to enable continued creativity and the ability to meet consumer demand.

What was a successful project or implementation you worked on at your company that you can share? Do you have any tips that would help colleagues at other companies who are contemplating similar projects?.

DF: Our energy efficiency voluntary agreements (VAs) for the US and Canada have proven to be extremely successful over the years. For example, in the US, the set-top box VA has reduced the energy consumption of set-top boxes by over 50%, saved consumers nearly $9.3 billion and avoided nearly 51 million metric tons of CO2 since we began. A big takeaway for me with these voluntary agreements is that every little bit helps. Even reducing device consumption by a few watts here and there really adds up when the savings are multiplied by hundreds of millions of devices! These VAs are the result of many companies and people in the industry (who are typically competitors) coming together with a common goal and committing to reducing the energy impact of the devices.

This is especially important for Pay TV and residential broadband services, because in most cases it is the service provider who determines what kind of equipment goes into the consumers’ homes, unlike purchasing a refrigerator. The VAs are also a great example of how voluntary industry initiatives can be more effective than regulation. Mandatory DOE standards don’t take effect for five years. Within the first five years of the set-top box VA, energy consumption was already reduced by over a third and saved nearly 28 TWh in that time period.

What trends do you expect to see in the market in the next few years? What challenges will the industry face and what technologies or organizational changes will overcome them?

DF: Although there will be continued governmental pressure to reduce GHG emissions and improve energy efficiency, I expect more industries to follow a voluntary consensus model and establish goals and commitments with more effective results than could be achieved through regulation. I also think that there will be an increasing focus on circularity across many industries, taking shape in many forms.

Tell us about a favorite hobby or passion that has had an impact on your work.

DF: Living in Colorado, I like to spend time outside, either golfing, hiking, power walking, or just enjoying the great outdoors. Over the past couple of years, summers outside have been significantly impacted by the wildfires raging across the west, to the point where the air quality makes it very difficult to enjoy outdoor activities. It is also a constant reminder of our rapidly changing climate and increases my sense of urgency to make a difference.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I am truly honored to be named to the E+E 100 this year and included among so many accomplished leaders in this space. Our programs’ successes are due to team efforts on many fronts, and I want to thank CableLabs and all my industry colleague who support the voluntary agreements.

Twitter: @CableLabs

Editor’s note: nominations are now open for this year’s E+E honoree list. Nominate a colleague — or yourself — for the 2022 E+E Honorees today.

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