“Phantom Energy” increases electric bills

We all are trying to behave in a more energy efficient manner. We take our reusable bags to shops, we recycling as much as possible, we’ve swapped out those old incandescent bulbs and replaced them with CFLs. But are some of our appliances quietly thwarting our efforts and costing us dearly?

Known as “phantom” loads, these may include electrical cords for appliances, device chargers, electronics and other items left plugged in that sap energy, even if they are turned off or not in use.  The most likely culprits are appliances that power clocks or timers and/or can be turned on or off with a remote control.  “Phantom” loads are estimated to account for 10% of household power-consumption.

A few examples and ranges of loads, in watts include:

  • Compact audio system: 9.7 watts
  • Cell phone charger: varies, 3 watts
  • Computer, in sleep mode: 1.7 watts
  • Computer printer, turned off: 5 watts
  • Microwave: 2.9 watts
  • Television w/remote: 5 – 20 watts
  • DVD player: 4.2 watts
  • Digital cable/satellite box: 4.4 – 24 watts
  • Vacuum cleaner: 2.1 watts

While one watt may not seem like much, it can add up to a significant amount of energy use on a national level.  According to the U.S. Department of Energy:

  • National residential electricity consumption in 2004 was 1.29 billion megawatt hours (MWh)
  • Phantom loads nationwide that same year added up to approximately 64 million MWh, or the equivalent of the output of 18 typical power stations.

The solution is simple:

  • Unplug products that are rarely used. The best example is the television and VCR in the second guest room.
  • Use a power strip with a switch to control clusters of products. The most likely targets are computer clusters (PC, display, printer, scanner, speakers, wireless transmitter, etc.), video clusters (TV, DVD player, powered speakers, game consoles, etc.), audio clusters (receiver, amplifier, CD players, etc.). Be sure to keep the set-top box and modem on a separate circuit to avoid loss of connection.
  • Buy low-standby products. This sounds like reasonable advice but it’s nearly impossible to follow because few products list their standby power use. Most Energy Star endorsed products have lower standby.

Reducing “phantom energy” use can potentially add up to many dollars in cost-savings and cleaner air.  For more information, visit http://standby.lbl.gov/standby.html

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