March 16th, 2011 by Tom Schueneman
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The modern world depends on the constant and steady flow of electricity. A stream of electrons that light a 21st-century hearth of TV’s, appliances, chargers, and devices of all kinds that inhabit our daily lives.
With the constantly available flow of electricity comes what is colloquially called vampire loads, arousing images of energy-sucking demons skulking through the night. The more technically accurate (and much less colorful) term is Standby Power. Standby Power generally means the minimum power an appliance consumes while plugged in and either “off, doing nothing, or not doing its primary function. Standby is the new “off” from when I was a boy. Now there’s an official international coalition of government agencies that actively address the issue of standby power, its measurement, and evolving definition.
A world on standy
It’s now so ingrained that we barely notice it, but the remote controlled TV, digital readout or glowing LED all need electricity to work. For most devices it isn’t very much electricity, barely one or two watts. But other devices like, cable set top boxes and audio equipment, can consume nearly 50 watts even while turned off, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It averages to about 10 percent of residential electricity consumption. It takes that much just to have our stuff turned off.
Some devices really look to be doing nothing, not even an LED light, but still consume some electricity – these are the true energy vampires.
So how do you deal with vampires?
Reducing standby power consumption
- Most of your electronic stuff has some light or display that indicates phantom loads. It can be assumed that if it’s powered through a wall wart it constantly draws power.
- If you’re not sure you can use a meter to measure consumption. Simply plug the meter into the outlet and the device (or power strip) in the meter. A meter good enough to accurately measure the low wattage could cost at least $50. Still, even less expensive models should measure consumption, if less accurately. What is important is to take an inventory of the devices you know or suspect constantly consume energy.
- It isn’t practical to expect you’ll reduce your energy vampires 100 percent. But for a modest investment of time and money you can eliminate an average of 30 percent of your standby power consumption. The basic tool for that is the switched power strip. One switch on the strip turns off a cluster of standby power devices. Some power strips come with a foot switch or remote, others have a “master plug” for a device of your choosing to power up the rest its neighbors. Yes, many strips themselves consume standby power, but far less that the devices connected to it.
- Or you could just unplug it yourself. If you don’t use an appliance very often, you can unplug it without much inconvenience or disruption.
So let’s answer the question we started with – will reducing standby power save the world? In a word: No. (Sorry, “saving the world” is going to be tougher than that.)
But that’s no reason not to do it anyway, it’ll save money and resources – and keep a lot of those vampires from skulking silently through the night.
- OnPlug eliminates standby power drain (gizmag.com)
- Pulling the plug on phantom power can save hundreds (theglobeandmail.com)
- Being “Practecol”: Vampires, Ben Franklin and the Sustainable Lifestyle (triplepundit.com)
- Energy-Saving Home Gadgets (foxnews.com)
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