Energy Sucking Vampires

December 31, 2013

Energy-Sucking Vampires

Printer, computer, microwave oven, cell phone charger:  These are all energy-sucking vampires.  Many printers spend most of their life in standby mode, using electricity, waiting to receive signals from connected computers.  Before you even pick up your remote control, the TV is already using electricity to power the sensor that will receive the signal.

The villain in question is vampire power, also known as standby power and phantom load. The terms refer to the electricity many gadgets and appliances waste just by being plugged in (even if they’re switched off).  What do you think your cell-phone charger does all day while it’s plugged into the wall? If it’s warm when you get home from work, then it’s been pulling electricity – regardless if your phone is attached.

In the United States alone, vampire power costs consumers more than $3 billion a year [source: Energy Information Administration].  Over time, many microwaves and televisions actually consume more electricity during the hours they’re not in use than the times you’re actually using them to heat up dinner and watch your favorite show.

How to identify phantom loads
You can find a device called a “Kill A Watt” power meter on for $24.  Connect an appliance through this meter to the power supply. If you find that an appliance is using more than a watt or two when in standby, it’s a phantom load.
Vampire power has been on the rise during the past decade, thanks to the proliferation of rechargeable gadgets, computer networks and devices with standby power functions. The United States consumes 26 percent of the world’s energy.  Of that energy, approximately 5 percent is vampire power [source: University of California, Berkeley]. To put that in perspective, that’s between 200 and 400 terawatt hours — roughly as much electricity as the entire country of Italy consumes in a year [source: Smyth].
Slay the Vampire
If you’re not using an electronic device, unplug it — that’s the blanket approach to fighting vampire power. You can make this step even easier with a surge protector or power strip. Plug multiple items in the strip and simply turn it off when you’re not using the devices. If the strip is off, you don’t have to worry about leaking electricity.
A certain amount of standby power is unavoidable, especially with major appliances or other devices that are impractical to turn off.

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