Tackle Energy Vampires and Stop Phantom Power

Halloween, a time of ghouls and ghosts, is an ideal occasion to stop energy vampires from stealing your electricity and money.

This October we decided to tackle the energy vampires around our home. The actions we completed were easy and low or no cost. Although appliances like refrigerators, microwaves, and garage door openers use standby power we did not include these items in our project.

A previous post, Energy Vampires and Phantom Loads – Standby Power, covered energy vampires (devices that suck electricity even when turned off), purposes of standby power and its environmental impact. This post chronicles our energy vampire project. Readers will learn how to identify energy vampires, decide which devices to deal with, and get ideas for possible solutions.

Identifying Possible Energy Vampires

We walked through our home and made a list. We checked it against the Energy Vampires and Phantom Loads – Standby Power post for items we might have missed, like our power tools in the garage.

Kill-A-Watt Meter with Extension CordI wanted to measure the standby power of our equipment and electronics so we could figure out how much electricity we would save after completing our endeavor. Fortunately, my lighting designer spouse had a Kill-A-Watt meter.

We walked around the house and garage with the Kill-A-Watt meter attached to an extension cord. We’d plug the extension cord into a wall outlet, set the meter to measure watts, then unplug a piece of equipment from the wall and plug it into the meter. I recorded how many standby watts each item drew if any when it was turned off.

Deciding Which Energy Vampires to Tackle

The next and possibly most difficult step is to figure out which items on the list to tackle. The low hanging fruit is devices with high standby power usage, unnecessary equipment, and things that are not used all the time. The balance between saving energy and convenience can be tricky. Since the full-time occupants of our household are my spouse and me, we only had to consult ourselves.

We decided to deal with our home office equipment, entertainment center, and determine if we had any items that could be unplugged either temporarily or for good.

Solutions for Getting Rid of Energy Vampires

This is what we did.

Home Office Computer Area

We both work out of our home so perhaps have more equipment that some people. Our home is in an area with not infrequent power outages so we both have UPS (uninterrupted power supply) units under our desks. In the event of a power outage, they keep our equipment on long enough to save files and power down safely.

Smart Power Strip with Remote Switch - Computer AreaThe UPS units are our top standby power users but we decided we need to keep them on. I purchased a smart power strip to plug my equipment into which is then plugged into the UPS. The UPS protects the equipment when it is on and the power strip eliminates standby power when equipment is turned off. Our Ethernet switches are plugged into the always-on outlets. I didn’t particularly want to crawl under my desk twice a day to turn the power strip on or off, or have it and all its cables on top of my desk. So I paid a few bucks extra for a smart power strip with a remote switch I put on top of my desk. Cool.

Squid Power Strip - Printer AreaHome Office Printer Area

We have several pieces of equipment for printing, copying, and scanning we use less often than a few years ago. We decided the equipment did not need to be on standby all the time. A 5-prong power squid enabled us to plug in external power supplies of various shapes and sizes. It is plugged into a switched wall outlet which means the equipment can be turned on or off with the flip of a wall switch. Easy.

Entertainment Center

Double Plug with Switch - Entertainment CenterI am the TV watcher in our household. We have a TV, cable box, DVD player, and speakers. The cable box and speakers are the standby power hogs so I plugged them into a double outlet with a cord that has a switch on the end (this came from our junk drawer). It only takes about 2 to 2 ½ minutes for the cable box to warm up. I can wait.

Unplug

We don’t leave our cell phone chargers plugged in so didn’t need to worry about them. My cordless weed whacker is only used in the summer so I decided to leave the two chargers unplugged the other 9 months of the year. We eliminated a cordless phone and three alarm clocks. Simple.

Standby Power Reduction Results

Before – our standby power (for the items on our list) was 1,075 kWh, about 10% of the annual energy use of the typical American household (11,280 kWh 1). Electricity in our area is expensive. At $0.22 per kWh, our standby power cost was $236.50, more than double the average of $100 estimated by the U.S. DOE 2.

After – we’ve reduced our standby power by almost 48% to about 512 kWh which will save $123.86 year after year.

We purchased two smart power strips for a total of $78.43 which makes our ROI (return on investment) less than one year. Even if we had purchased a Kill-A-Watt meter for $21.54, our ROI would still be less than a year.

It All Adds Up

If every household in the United States took action to reduce standby power (estimated at 100 billion kWh annually 3), and we reduced it by say 25%, we would save 25,000,000,000 kWh (yes that’s billions) of electricity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. Unplugging chargers and a $5 power strip could go a long way.

Small actions can really add up.

Now you are armed with information about how to identify energy vampires and possible solutions, so it’s your turn. Share how you tackled your energy vampires in the comments section below. Good luck.

Related Posts

References

  1. U.S. Energy Information Administration – How much electricity does an American home use?
  2. U.S. DOE – 3 Easy Tips to Reduce Your Standby Power Loads
  3. ENERGY STAR – Celebrating 20 Years of ENERGY STAR, Product Retrospective: Standby Power

Resources

Energy Vampires and Phantom Loads – Standby Power

What do vampires and cable TV boxes have common? They both suck energy (from people and power grids respectively). The electricity used by equipment and devices when they are switched off or in standby mode is commonly called standby power.

Energy Vampire - Cell Phone ChargerThe origin of the term energy vampire is shrouded in mystery but likely refers to an external power supply also known as an A/C adapter or charger. It is black, has two prongs (teeth), and sucks electricity at night.

An estimated 5-10% of residential energy is used for standby power.1 When all U.S. households are combined standby power represents a significant amount of energy, some which is wasted unnecessarily.

National Energy Action Month and Halloween both occur in October so this month seems an ideal time to tackle energy vampires and standby power. In this first of two posts, readers will learn about standby power and how to identify energy vampires. The second post will deal with ridding our households of energy vampires while saving a few bucks.

What is Standby Power?

The electricity used by equipment and devices when they are turned off, not in use, or in standby mode is called standby power, vampire power, phantom power, no-load power, or phantom load. Standby power purposes include:

  • Maintaining signal reception capability (for a remote control, telephone or network signal)
  • Monitoring temperature or other conditions
  • Enabling a device to switch on quickly
  • Powering an internal clock (e.g. to adjust a thermostat based on time of day)
  • Battery charging
  • Continuous display (time, status)

In some cases standby power is necessary for equipment to function properly, in others it provides convenience for users, and sometimes it is just wasted. Let’s look at a few examples.

Almost all refrigerators draw electricity continuously. The compressor cycles on and off to maintain the temperature set by the user. When the compressor is off, electricity is used by the thermostat to sense when to turn the compressor on again. This is a case of necessary standby power.

TV with Remote ControlAmericans can be an impatient lot who expect devices to turn on instantly with no warm up period. A cable TV box uses standby power to enable it to receive a signal and turn on the TV within seconds whenever a user pushes the on button on the remote control. Standby power is consumed 24 / 7 for user convenience.

Then there are the external power supplies we plug into a wall outlet to charge our electronic gadgets like cell phones. Once the device is charged, the power supply may continue to draw electricity until it is unplugged from the wall. This is an example of unnecessarily wasted electricity.

Which Equipment and Electronics Consume Standby Power?

A typical American household contain 40 items that constantly draw electricity whether they are in use or not.2

Equipment and electronics that consume continuous electricity include devices with external power supplies, remote controls, soft button control panels, always on displays, or that charge batteries. Standby power usage varies and some newer equipment may draw little or no standby power. The list below provides examples of possible energy vampires.

Appliances: microwave, range, oven, refrigerator, washer, dryer, air conditioner, dishwasher.

Home Office with Computer, Monitor, and PrinterElectronics: TV, set-top box, DVD player, desk top computer, printer, scanner, tablet computer, monitor, lap top computer, router, server, copier, cell phone, game console, digital camera, cordless telephone, telephone answering machine, speakers, audio system.

Small Appliances, Tools, and Other Devices: cordless power tool, coffee maker, garage door opener, alarm clock, electric razor, thermostat.

What is the Environmental Impact of Standby Power?

One way standby power impacts our environment is through waste. Producing power uses resources from making the generating equipment to transmitting the electricity. Allowing devices to use power unnecessarily wastes the resources that went into producing it.

Power PlantA major impact of standby power is the pollution and greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuel burning power plants that generate electricity for our homes. In 2011, 68% of U.S. electricity was generated by burning fossil fuels (1% petroleum, 25% natural gas, 42% coal).3 Standby power accounts for more than 100 billion kilowatt hours (KWHs) of U.S. electricity consumption and more than $10 billion in annual energy costs. 4

Let’s put this in perspective.

The average U.S. household uses 11,280 KWHs of electricity a year.5 Generally 4 people constitute an average household used for such calculations, so each person accounts for 2,820 KWHs. Our 100 billion KWHs of standby power could provide the annual power needs of 35,460,993 Americans (11% of our population) or the entire country of Canada (35,158,304 people).6

If the electricity used to generate our 100 billion KWHs of standby power comes from a fossil fuel burning power plant, the figures below show how much coal, natural gas, or petroleum would be burned to produce 100 billion KHWs of electricity (based on data from EIA7).

  • Coal: 107,000,000,000 pounds (billions)
  • Natural Gas: 100,000,000,000,000 cubic feet (trillions)
  • Residual Fuel Oil: 8,000,000,000 gallons (billions)

As you can see when we add all our household energy vampires together across the U.S. standby power represents a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions and wasted energy.

In the next post, we’ll find out what we can do about energy vampires and wasted standby power.

Related Posts:

References:

  1. U.S. DOE – 3 Easy Tips to Reduce Your Standby Power Loads
  2. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory – Standby Power FAQs
  3. U.S. Energy Information Administration – Electricity in the United States
  4. ENERGY STAR – Celebrating 20 Years of ENERGY STAR, Product Retrospective: Standby Power
  5. U.S. Energy Information Administration – How much electricity does an American home use?
  6. Wikipedia – List of countries by population
  7. U.S. Energy Information Administration – How much coal, natural gas, or petroleum is used to generate a kilowatt-hour of electricity?

Resources: