Standby Power: What it Is, Why it Sucks, and What You Can Do About It
Did you all have a nice Christmas? Get to spend some nice time in the warm embrace of family and friends? I sure hope so. I certainly did. The one thing I’ve noticed about Christmas over the last few years is the number of gifts that require charging or being plugged in. Santa brings just about everybody I know some new gadget or device…it’s just a fact in this connected, modern world. Stuff’s gotta get charged; stuff’s gotta have power. But did you know there’s a dark, dirty secret about all this electronic stuff? It’s true. Wanna know the secret? Come here….I’ll tell you. All this stuff that’s turned off when not in use? They’re not really off. Did you even know this? Most people don’t, so don’t feel bad. Most of the stuff that we plug into the wall these days suck a tiny amount of energy out of the outlet 24/7. This energy use is called by different names, like‘phantom load’ ‘leaking electricity’ or ‘vampire energy,’standby, or instant-on power. And it sucks. Literally.
All of these electronic devices and appliances, when turned off in standby mode, consume an awful lot of energy. Not individually; by themselves, each device sips just a bit of power, sometimes under 1 watt. But think about it: How many things do you have plugged in at your house right now that are sitting in standby mode? 20? 30? That’s not out of the realm of possibility. Now think of all the things plugged in on standby mode in every house in the country. Millions and millions of TVs, coffee makers, stereo receivers, dvd players, video game consoles….the list goes on. What’s the deal with this standby power? It’s simple: we’re lazy. We want our machines to be available instantly. We want our microwaves and coffee pots to have digital clocks on them. (There are 3 digital clocks on the machines in my kitchen alone. Is this really necessary??? HELL NO.) We need to be able to click on our TVs with the push of a remote control button. All of this instant-on requires a tiny amount of power so things are ready to go. All of this standby power adds up quick. The average home can spend hundreds of dollars a year just so our turned-off appliances and devices can be turned on fast. Writing it down makes it seem as stupid as it really is.
In a time when we should all be doing whatever we can to lighten our load and live more energy-efficiently to reduce pollution and reduce carbon emissions (Climate change is real, and it’s happening now. Deal with it.) why are we wasting all this energy (and the money to pay for it) on things that aren’t even turned ‘on?’ To me, it’s ridiculous. It’s also a huge opportunity to harvest some very low-hanging fruit in the effort to reduce energy usage.
How to Make ‘Off’ Really Mean Something
What can we do to make sure these sleeping energy hogs are really off? Like ‘using no energy whatsoever’ off. It’s easy. Unplug them. Problem solved. But let’s face it: running around unplugging and plugging all these devices back in all the time isn’t really viable. It’s a pain in the ass, actually. Most of our electronics are plugged into outlets hidden behind furniture where it’s not exactly easy to be unplugging on the time.
One option: the lowly power strip. Most of our electronics are plugged into multi-outlet power strips already. Most of these strips have an on/off switch on them. Let’s start using those switches. Flip the power strip off, and everything goes off. Or you can plug them into an on/off light switch and turn things off that way. Whatever’s easy. It’s gotta be easy or we won’t do it. (I include myself in this.)
Monster GreenPower Surge Protectors
Shopping for surge protectors recently, I came across some from Monster (the makers of those ridiculously overpriced and unnecessary audio/video cables) that had a feature they called ‘GreenPower.’ Looking into it a bit, it turns out that GreenPower is actually kind of a cool little feature. You basically plug one device (like a TV) into the ‘Green Power‘ outlet on the surge protector; then you plug the rest of your devices (dvd player, stereo,video game, etc.) into the remaining outlets on the strip. GreenPower monitors the main device, and when it’s turned off, the surge protector automatically cuts the power to everything. Instantly and easily. I wrote a more in-depth piece on these Monster GreenPower surge protectors HERE. There’s a whole line of these surge protectors; I ordered an older discontinued model from Amazon for $12.
Belkin Conserve Power Switch
For appliances or devices that aren’t plugged into a surge protector or power strip, you can get something like the Belkin Conserve Power Switch. These nifty little things plug into an electrical outlet; your device then plugs into that. A switch on the Belkin lets you very easily turn the thing on and off.
Make Off Mean Off and Save Money (and Maybe the Earth)
Look: I realize this isn’t the most interesting topic in the world. I’m not an idiot. But it’s important, and I think sometimes it’s worth shedding light on the less-glamorous things in life if it’ll help shine a light on making things better. Is it worth a little effort or investment in order to reduce the phantom, vampire, standby electricity these modern miracles waste? I think it most definitely is. By turning off these instant-on standby devices (even most of them; I’ll be the first to agree that some appliances or devices do actually need to be ready to go instantly. That’s fine.) most homes can save a good bit of money, upwards of $80 or $100 a year, depending on local utility rates and the total number of plugged in devices in the home. That’s worth it to me! Start your 2015 off right by using less energy while you enjoy all those shiny new gadgets. Cheers!