Stop phantom draw from sucking your power

Many common appliances use up energy even when they are off or not being used. The obvious ones are things that have some sort of light or clock, but other appliances can also suck away at your energy budget. The solution is to put things on power strips, and only flip the strip on when you want to use an appliance. People in Scotland take this to the logical extreme, and commonly have wall sockets with on/off toggle switches built right in. Sockets like that are available in the US, but I’ve rarely seen them used for anything other than lights.

Energy.gov suggests that eliminating phantom draws by disconnecting electronics while not in use could save households up to 10% on electricity. On average, American households have about 76 watts of total phantom draw, costing about $56.59 per year if electricity costs $0.085 per kWh (Bertoldi et al.). If you factor in anything that is using power while not actively in use, the EPA estimates that the cost can be $100 per year.

Thanks to the international One Watt Initiative, phantom draws on new consumer products are decreasing. The goal of the initiative is to get stand-by power (phantom draw) down to 1 watt or less for all consumer electronics. New products are a lot better for the environment than they used to be, but many of us still have older products in our homes or ones that don’t yet meet the one watt standard.

IMG_0359

My favorite local library has power meters that people can borrow to see how much power various things use, so I borrowed one to see what the phantom draw would be for our appliances. We have most on power strips, but the wall-mounted microwave in our apartment isn’t super-conducive to this approach.

I used this website (http://www.rapidtables.com/calc/electric/energy-cost-calculator.htm) to calculate how much money these phantom draws would cost over the course of a year with electricity costs at $0.085 per kWh.

 

Item Power (Watts) Cost per Year
Computer charger (no computer) 0 $0.00
Cell phone charger (no phone) 0.1 $0.07
Microwave 0.7 $0.52
TV 0.9 $0.67
Speaker (off, fully charged) 0.9 $0.67
Printer 2.6 $1.94
DVD Player 7.5 $5.58
Wifi Router 13.8 $10.28

I also did our vacuum, which I was pretty sure didn’t have a phantom draw but decided to try. No phantom draw.

This list only covers some of our electronics, and already it is getting up there in yearly costs. While the wifi router is often in use in our household, there are stretches of time when it is not being used (when we’re asleep, away, etc.). I think it’s time to put that on a power strip. Also, the DVD player was on a power strip with other devices (like our TV), but given its large phantom draw and infrequent use I unplugged it.

Infographic

I learned about a wonderful thing while researching for this post: advanced power strips (see infographic from NREL.gov). They can help people who forget to flip power strips to off when they are done using something. There are even some that will help you turn electronics off if you sometimes forget, or if you fall asleep watching TV. I looked up advanced power strips on amazon.com, thinking that they would be very expensive. However, at the time I looked there was a master-controlled power strip for about $10, which really isn’t bad.

One might argue that phantom draws, especially for newer electronics, are small and so not worth the trouble to fix. However, eliminating phantom draws where possible is an easy change that could save a lot of fuel and carbon dioxide emissions if many people adopt it. Let’s say for the sake of argument that everyone in the Twin Cities metro area put their appliances on power strips that they only turned on when using an appliance. That’s about 3.5 million people. We would be saving tens of millions of dollars’ worth of electricity each year!

 

Resources:

Bertoldi, P. et al. Standby power use: how big is the problem? What policies and technical solutions can address it? Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20070706120640/http://standby.lbl.gov/ACEEE/StandbyPaper.pdf

Ellis, M. & Jollands, N. 2009. Gadgets and gigawatts: policies for energy efficient electronics. International Energy Agency. Available at: https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/gigawatts2009.pdf

Energy.gov. 2015. 4 ways to slay energy vampires this Halloween. Available at: https://energy.gov/articles/4-ways-slay-energy-vampires-halloween

International Energy Agency. 2013. Powering down to save energy need not be a turn-off. Available at: https://www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2013/january/powering-down-to-save-energy-need-not-be-a-turn-off.html

Schlossberg, T. 2016. Just how much power do your electronics use when they are ‘off’? The New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/08/science/just-how-much-power-do-your-electronics-use-when-they-are-off.html?_r=0

 

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