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There was a time when off meant off and a darkened room didn't glisten with tiny pinpricks of red, blue, and green light.There was a time when vampires only existed in the world of fiction. But those days are gone, and vampires - energy vampires or vampire loads - are everywhere. There are likely vampire loads of some sort in every room of your house.

Energy Efficiency

Vampire Loads: Powering a Standby World

There was a time when off meant off and a darkened room didn’t glisten with tiny pinpricks of red, blue, and green light.There was a time when vampires only existed in the world of fiction. But those days are gone, and vampires – energy vampires or vampire loads – are everywhere. There are likely vampire loads of some sort in every room of your house.

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Waiting in standby power mode

There was a time when off meant off and a darkened room didn’t glisten with tiny pinpricks of red, blue, and green light.There was a time when vampires only existed in the world of fiction. But those days are gone, and vampires – energy vampires or vampire loads – are everywhere. There are likely vampire loads of some sort in every room of your house.

Defining an energy vampire

You may also know it as phantom load, it is less dramatically (and more accurately) called standby power. Standby power is the new “off” for most modern devices and appliances. It depends on the device, but according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, standby power is generally defined as the minimum electricity consumed by an appliance while plugged into an AC outlet while switched off, doing nothing, or “not performing their primary” function.

That’s fine for our purposes, but in an effort to improve the “efficiency of products in a manner that does not impede product performance, safety, overall value, or customer satisfaction,” the International Energy Administration set about in 1999 to form an international collaboration with various government agencies to define and deal with the growing phenomenon of “vampires” in electrical devices. The current and evolving definition is detailed here by government agency for most devices.

Graphically defining standby powerMany of us are aware that electronics like TV’s and DVR’s as devices that are never really “off”. Something must be on to receive the signal from the remote to, well, turn on the TV – and then there’s the iconic flashing “12:00” of the VCR that never got programmed (ah, the good ol’ days of tape). But take a look around and you’ll see phantom loads in places you might not have thought about – or perhaps you won’t. Some appliances are stealthy in their constant use of electrical power.

Modern washers and dryers, heaters, chargers, printers, anything with a “wall wart” on the power cord are some examples of appliances that continually draw power. In some cases the only way to determine if a device is consuming electricity while plugged in and “off” is to use a power meter. A meter accurate enough to measure low wattage will probably cost you $50, so it might not make economic sense to get too geeky about it (unless your a natural geek like me). But even an inexpensive meter, if less accurate, can measure power consumption.

What’s the big deal?

Taken individually, the amount of power draw when most of our gadgets are turned off is very small. But, of course, it adds up, and standby power can account for as much as 10 percent of residential power consumption. Nobody’s “saving the planet” by eliminating standby power. But our standby world is growing, as an ever-growing army of electrical gadgets standby at our beck and call. Why waste 10 percent of a resource – like your money – if you don’t have to?

Living with the vampire

It’s probably not very practical to expect to eliminate all the vampires in your home. Some devices can’t really do their job unless they are constantly powered, at least minimally. Anything with a clock, network routers, and other such devices have no “off” button for a reason. You’re not supposed to turn it off.  But even with a modest effort you can eliminate at least 30 percent of the energy vampires lurking in your home.

Power management

If you’ve got an hour and a few dollars ($10-$15 at a minimum), you can set up your little clusters of energy vampires to become more energy efficient. It won’t save the world, but it won’t hurt, it’ll even help a little. And it will save you money.

Here’s some tips to get started:

  • Does it have to be plugged in all the time? If you don’t use it much, just unplug it.
  • Keep it plugged in but not connected. Use switched power strips to disconnect multiple devices at once without unplugging them. Many strips a master have corded foot switches to make switching easier. Some even have remote controls or a “master plug” to plug in the one device that will then turn on all others – but wait… well, one source of phantom power to control several others; you’re still ahead of the game.

This standby power chart from Lawrence Berkeley Lab shows the average power consumption for all the devices in your home and office.

Image credits:
Surat Lozowick, courtesy Flickr
Lawrence Berkeley Lab

 
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Written By

is an online publisher, editor, and freelance writer. He is the founder of GlobalWarmingisReal.com and the History Blog Project, as well as publisher and site director for the HippieMagazine.com. Tom also contributes to numerous environmental blogs, including TriplePundit, Ecopolitology, Sustainablog, and Planetsave.   Tom's work has led him to Europe, Africa, Latin America, Canada, the South Pacific, and across the United States. His home base is San Francisco, California.

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