Getting savvy about standby power
By Noah Buhayar, Fellow, Rocky Mountain Institute (www.rmi.org) | Posted Fri Nov 2, 2007 2:47pm PDT
Ever wonder how much electricity your household appliances use when they're supposedly off—in "standby" or "ready" mode? Think of the clock on your microwave, your DVD player that's on but not playing a movie, or the little sensor on the bottom of your TV that waits for a signal from your remote control.
It turns out that these "vampire" loads are gradually sucking away power—a lot of power.
An estimated 13 percent of household electricity use, according to a recent study published by the California Energy Commission, is from appliances in low-power mode (which is to say, not performing any of their primary functions).
Standby mode, the least amount of energy an appliance can use without powering down, is just one example. Many appliances have multiple low-power modes.
A DVD player, for instance, may have both a standby and sleep mode. Computers, as well, often save power by shutting down one or more components without turning completely off.
What it costs
The costs of these low-power modes are enormous. Standby power alone accounts for 5 of that 13 percent of household electricity use.
In 2000, a group of researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated that each year Americans spend about $4 billion just on standby power.
Generating that electricity puts roughly 27 million tons of CO2-equivalent emissions into the atmosphere (more than 3.7 million cars' worth) every year.
While the amount of low-power mode energy required by most new appliances is going down, the number of appliances (from washing machines to air conditioners) with continual power needs is increasing—eclipsing those savings. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that standby power could consume as much as 20 percent of household electricity by 2010.