Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Electricity Vampires

Have you ever thought of electronic appliances in your home as vampires? It's true: they suck electricity in a secretive and disturbing way.  We probably think about turning off the lights when we go to sleep or leave the house, but we need to think about turning off all our electronics. And there’s the rub: they often aren’t designed to turn off. 

Standby power is part of the problem. Standby power is the electricity your appliances use when they are in standby mode.  Standby mode enables our gadgets to turn on quickly, and it supplies a plentitude of digital clocks in our homes. A typical American home has forty products that constantly draw power, amounting to almost 10% of residential electricity use (see Lawrence Berkeley Lab's website on standby power for this and other fun facts). 

Energy wonks have been discussing standby power since the 1990s (referred to early on as “leaking electricity.”)  Since then, they have also been recommending that policymakers limit standby power consumption to one watt per device.  Bush’s Executive Order 13221 (the “1-Watt Standby Order”) responded to some degree by requiring that federal agencies purchase products with low standby energy consumption.  Mandatory efficiency standards that apply to manufacturers, however, have not been forthcoming.  

As featured in a recent article in the New York Times, the real Dracula these days are the set-top boxes that provide cable and digital recording services.  According to the recently released NRDC study described therein, they consume an incredible $3 billion in electricity annually in the United States, two-thirds of which is wasted when no one is watching and shows are not being recorded.  Basically, these devices don’t even have a standby mode. They are electron-thirsty 24/7.

So what's a concerned citizen to do?  Here's a slogan I just thought of that seems to capture our primary alternatives: unplug, educate and advocate.  And if that one doesn't do much for you, here are a few others:

     Save energy for a brighter future; 
     Don’t be fuelish;
     If it’s not in use, turn off the juice;
     Today’s wastage is tomorrow’s shortage;
     and, Conservation is power.

- Lesley McAllister


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