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Pulling the Plug on Idle Energy Consumption

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What’s the energy difference between on and off? Not much, it seems, when it comes to electrical device power consumption. About 50 appliances in the typical American household are always drawing significant amounts of power, even when they appear to be off, Alan Meier of the Department of Energy’s Berkeley Lab recently told the New York Times.

Idle load consumption—which refers to appliances that are off or in standby mode but still drawing electricity—can lead to a substantial amount of wasted energy. A 2015 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council revealed that 23 percent of all residential energy consumption is used on devices in idle power mode.

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And today our society is more electron-dependent than ever. According to the World Bank, in 1966 the average American used about 5,590 kilowatt-hours every year. In 2013 that number increased to 12,985. Some of that usage, analysts believe, can be attributed to an increase in the number of electronics used today. However another contributing factor is that so many items—light bulbs, refrigerators, and coffee makers—are connected to the Internet and thus, always require some level of power.

Many appliances actually use just as much power when off as they do when switched on. New York Times journalist Tatiana Schlossberg tested her home appliances with a wattage meter. The results were staggering. Through her research, she discovered that, like many energy consumers, she had no idea how much power her idle appliances used. “My cable box drew 28 watts when it was on and recording a show, and 26W when it was off and not recording anything.” Her computer, an Apple MacBook, used 48W while charging and 27W while open and fully charged. Background devices like modems and routers drew a consistent 15W and 4W respectively.

Idle energy consumption increases exponentially when we look at usage in larger spaces and commercial buildings. Office equipment such as photocopy machines, computers, and air conditioning units draw a tremendous amount of energy even in sleep mode or when powered off, creating massive idle plug loads for many commercial spaces.

Studies indicate however, that when energy consumers have access to data, they become more conscientious about managing their usage. Many energy management experts therefore advocate for smart meters, energy management systems, and building automation systems, which can provide energy consumption data. With usage insights, building managers are equipped to help target problem areas and reduce passive plug load. Some systems even have integrated plug load monitors that help facility managers identify the most significant idle power drains. Data offers an informed approach to energy management, and the only real alternative to pulling the plug.

What efforts to you make to minimize your building’s idle energy consumption? DE_bug_web

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  1. Hi there
    I regularly give a talk to home owners about power vampires or wall warts – those items that we plug in and leave in which just draw power all the time. Some of my favourite examples are any transformers – be it for cell phones, pads, or laptops – especially if they have LED lights to show they are on and fans to cool them from all the heat build up through unused power! Also, computer speakers – left on, the magnets are continually energised and the old fridge – which is stuck in an un-insulated and thus hot garage and, once the summer rush is over, might contain a few ice cubes, some odd pieces of bait, flat beer and a lonely loaf of suspect bread! I calculated that if an average home (of 4 people) just switched off all the vampire loads, the fridge in the garage and installed some energy efficient lamps, they could save between $1000 and $1200 a year without changing their lifestyle. I like to refer to it as taking back the power!

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