Most experts agree that standby power or phantom loads are electricity used by appliances and equipment while they are switched off or not performing their primary function. That power is consumed by power supplies which are those black cubes sometimes called "vampires."
They convert AC into DC. Standby power use is also caused by circuits that continue to be energized even when the device is "off." Big-screen televisions are an example of a consumer electronic item that creates this unsuspected energy consequence.
Almost any product with an external power supply, remote control, continuous display (including an LED), or charges batteries will continuously draw power. Sometimes there is no obvious sign of continuous power consumption, and a meter is needed to be certain. The obvious are computers and other consumer electronic items left on at all times.
Nobody knows for sure exactly how much power is lost due to standby losses. Yet it has been determined that typically 5-10 percent* of residential electricity in most developed countries and a rising fraction in the developing countries, especially in the cities is lost. Standby power in commercial buildings is smaller, but still significant.
Reducing standby power in a home can be difficult, yet not impossible. Here are some suggestions:
- If an appliance or device is not used frequently, simply unplug it.
- Unplug battery-charging devices when not in use.
- Use switchable power strips for clusters of computer and television equipment. Zero consumption can be reached with the flick of a switch.
- Purchase ENERGY STAR® appliances. Most are significantly more energy efficient.
- Buy a low-cost watt-meter, measure the usability of devices and take action. This exercise can pay back the cost of the meter in savings. The Kill-a-Watt and Power Cost Monitor are two user-friendly versions.
Standby power is necessary for many functions in a home. Some include monitoring temperature and other conditions with refrigerators and freezers and maintaining signal reception for wireless network signals, telephones, displays, clocks and more. So eliminating standby power is next to impossible. Yet learning how to efficiently monitor standby power will help take control of energy consumption and your electric bill.
*Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory