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Appliances... Energy vampires

Standby mode costs Americans $3 billion annually

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Posted: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 9:10 am

You probably think about shutting lights off when you leave the room, or keeping the refrigerator closed until you're ready to grab something to eat. But what about shutting down the power strip many of your electronics are connected to?

 These devices use power even when they are switched off. Your microwave has a clock display when it isn't being used, and your computer is using power to be ready to switch on when you need it. A mobile phone power adapter draws energy when it's not plugged in to a phone. All these little functions cost Americans $3 billion a year. The Department of Energy said that most Americans spend five to 10 percent of their total energy cost on standby energy.

 Homeowners were turned onto this idea of "vampire appliances" as early as 2002, when a Cornell University professor calculated that Americans spend $3 billion annually, and that the average home is spending around 5 percent of their energy costs, just by leaving their appliances plugged in. "All of those units in standby would probably use a few watts of power," said Doug Melton, a faculty member at Kettering University in Flint, who has conducted energy audits on buildings like The Whiting in Flint. When a device isn't being used for its primary function, and is shut down, it is in standby.

 He estimates that the average home wastes $100 a year on standby energy, and the same Science Daily article estimated as much as $200 per year.

 But according to an ABC report, appliances like computers can cost $40 annually while plugged in, and plasma TV's could cost $100 by themselves. The same report said that Smart Meters have contributed to saving businesses and residents' energy by changing their energy behavior.

 The money you are spending can also be calculated by a $20 device called a "Kill A Watt." Melton endorses the device, which when attached, displays how much energy a plugged in device uses in standby and what it is costing annually.

 Melton emphasized that an average family spends $2,200 on energy bills, and many energy costs not related to heating and cooling are more difficult to control.

 Americans may have it lucky, with appliances that only leech around 5 percent energy. Australians purge 13 percent of their energy in standby mode. The world average is 7 percent.

 Starting in 2007, the same law that initiated the phase out of incandescent light bulbs also encouraged lower wattage standby usage. "By buying and using products with low standby power, the federal government will be helping to reduce this load on our power system," said a Department of Energy web report.

 Still, this standby power uses a lot of energy worldwide, and contributes to global pollution. "Vampire appliances significantly contribute to the production of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants," as reported in that same Science Daily article.

 To save money, and fossil fuel consumption, Melton suggests plugging several devices like components for an entertainment center together into a power strip, and then switching the strip off when the devices aren't in use. Unplug anything that doesn't need to be in standby, like toasters and microwaves, if you don't rely on its clock. Also, look for products with the "Energy Star" logo. "It's hard to address this with one solution," he said.

 Melton said that mobile devices like smart phones and tablets are ahead of the curve on energy use. He said that before the screen goes dark to save power, it is already in standby more often than you realize. An iPad will go on standby several times a second, in between touches.


Energy Terms


Watt: A unit of measure of electric power at a point in time, as capacity or demand. One watt of power maintained over time is equal to one joule per second. Some Christmas tree lights use one watt. The watt is named after Scottish inventor James Watt and is capitalized when shortened to w and used with other abbreviations, as in kWh.


Kilowatt Hour: The most commonly-used unit of measure telling the amount of electricity consumed over time. It means one kilowatt of electricity supplied for one hour. A family may use around 500 kWh in a month.


Energy: The capacity for doing work. Forms of energy include: thermal, mechanical, electrical and chemical. Energy may be transformed from one form into another.





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