Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Green Term of the Week - Phantom Load

I read this in a book I just finished reading, Serve God Save the Planet (review coming soon).
The U.S. government reports that Americans spend more money to power audio equipment when it is off than when it is on. When stereos are off - which is most of the time - they are still using energy because they are in standby mode.
When power is drawn from a piece of electronic equipment when it is seemingly turned off, that piece of equipment is known to have a phantom load (also known as a vampire load). I spent many years under the impression that the energy drawn when electronics are not in use were so miniscule that they made no difference at all. Turns out, phantom loads are responsible for 6% of America's energy usage. That's a lot of greenhouse gases being created for literally no reason.

What are some of the specific power sucking devices in a typical home?
  • any item that can be turned on or off with a remote control, or that has an instant-on feature, is continually using energy even when turned off (just learned that from Save God Serve the Planet)
  • plugged in chargers for cell phones, mp3 players or other devices that need to be charged draw energy even when the device is removed
  • any device with an LED clock (alarm clocks, DVD players, microwave ovens, coffee makers, etc.)
  • computers, monitors, printers
  • electronic exercise equipment that has a display
  • televisions
  • stereos
How many of these items do you have in your home? We have all of them, and confession time here, it hadn't occurred to me about the exercise equipment. I have an elliptical machine that I haven't used in months that is sitting right behind me now. It's been plugged in all this time. Excuse me while I go unplug it.

Okay, I'm back.

How do you make sure that you aren't wasting energy with phantom loads? It's as easy as what I just did. Unplug the equipment when not in use. If you have a lot of the equipment centrally located, like your computer equipment or entertainment equipment, you can buy a power strip that will turn them all of with one button.

I also came across a little item called an energenie. You plug it into the wall and then you plug your equipment into it. The energenie senses when a device is in standby mode and automatically switches it off for you. I've never used one, so I can't really recommend it, but you can visit the website and check it out for yourself.

Sure, it's a bit of a hassle making sure all your equipment is truly off when not in use. But think of this. Some have estimated that the amount of phantom load energy that U.S. uses in one year would be enough to completely power the countries of Greece and Vietnam with enough left over for Peru. When you think of it that way, you've got a bit more incentive to truly turn off and unplug your devices, don't you?

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Despairing said...

I've said on my blog before, but the only things I have permanently plugged in these days are the fridge, the telephone and the PVR.

All the computer equipment is on one strip, but even then I unplug some of them. For example, the printer is only plugged in for the length of time it takes to print what I need! It's not too much hassle ducking under tables or behind equipment to switch things off.

Robin Shreeves said...

Despairing - My printer is hooked up to the power strip, too, but I leave it turned off from the printer unless I want to print something. Then I turn it on and search my desk for the cord that attaches it to my laptop, hunt for the piece of paper with an unused back to print on... certainly makes me think twice before printing.

What's a PVR?

Despairing said...

A PVR is what you call a DVR or Tivo. I've no idea why we call it PVR (Personal Video Recorder). Maybe there was a bad connection during the phone call when they decided on the name for a hard drive recorder!