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Electricity – where does my power go?

By May 18, 20095 Comments

Although it appears that all I do is cycling (which is mostly the case 😉 ), I also work as a solar design engineer at Standard Renewable Energy. When I’m not thinking of high alpine, singletrack, the newest coolest bike parts, or my next race, I’m thinking about how to be, and help others be more energy conscious.  A guy at work, Kevin Stewart, wrote a document on this, so I decided to take some of his words and paraphrase.

Now, there is a thing called phantom loads. Most of you have probably heard of it, but when you have something plugged into the wall, say a cell phone charger, it is still drawing power…regardless of whether you are charging a phone or not. All your cool electronic gadgets can add up if you leave them plugged in and your usage on that nasty utility bill will climb. In 1999, there was a study in New Zealand by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority regarding phantom loads. Here are some of their findings that may make your jaw drop:

  • 40% of microwave ovens used more electricity to power the clock and keypad over the course of a year than actually heating food
  • A computer left running with the screen turned on could draw as much current as your fridge
  • As much as 10% of the kWhs on a given person’s bill can be simply from phantom loads

Studies conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimate that standby power consumption in the US accounts for 5% of all residential power consumption.  That means Americans spend more than $3.5 billion annually on wasted power.  It also means that our standby power is responsible for 27 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Here are some things you can do to fight these energy sucking vampires! (Thanks to Kevin’s document)

  • Unplug your devices. It’s as simple as that. Pull TV/computer/stereo/etc power cords out of the outlet.  If they’re not in use or if they’re totally unnecessary (are you really going to ever use that VCR player again?), unplug.
  • Use the “other” off switch. Many devices also have an ‘off’ switch in the back. For example, most computers come with one ‘soft’ power switch on the front, which takes it from standby to on. Separately, there is usually a real ‘on/off’ switch located in the back on the power supply (near where the power cord goes in).
  • Plug your devices and chargers into a power strip. And when you’re not using those devices, turn off your power strip. Simple!
  • Remove chargers from the wall when you’re not charging. Your cell phone charger, iPod charger, laptop charger, etc. keeps drawing electricity even if your phone/Ipod/laptop/etc isn’t charging.  So if your phone says “Charge complete” (or worse, isn’t even attached to your charger), pull out the charger.
  • If you’re in the market for new electronics, buy Energy Star qualified. Energy Star takes standby power into account and their qualified devices draw less than the average when in their “off” mode. Some of their best electronic items include cordless phones and audio equipment.
  • For your various computer accessories, try a smart strip. These work really well when it’s not feasible to be constantly unplugging your devices. Check out the Isole Plug Load Control. This power strip saves energy by monitoring occupancy. The Smart Strip Power Strip monitors power differences between computers and peripherals. This way, when you shut down your computer, the Smart Strip automatically shuts off the accessories. The Mini Power Minder also works by communicating between your computer and your accessory.
  • To learn about the power consumption of your electronics, look into a Kill-A-Watt. This device will tell you about the efficiency of your electronics, whether turned on or “off.” It can actually be kind of fun (and definitely enlightening) to run around your house and see how much juice each piece of equipment takes, in both and and standby mode. You’ll likely be surprised. (If you want something a little more hardcore, try Watts Up?).
  • If you’re up for a whole house project, check out Green-Switch, a wireless home energy control system that let’s you cut off power to your various electronics quite easily.  For other whole house devices and monitoring, here’s an interview that might be right up your alley.
  • Change out all light bulbs with Compact Fluorescents.  They have come a long way in the last couple years and you can now use them for dimming, spotlighting, etc.  In fact, SRE sells lightbulbs.  Let me know if you want to get some from us b/c we have a ton!

That’s all from my green soap box.  Now where is my bike? 🙂


  • Mike says:

    I have a Kill-A-Watt on all my home/work computing stuff. I prefer not to look at it. Constant draw of about 6 Amps. It is a good thing I have lab space at the office so I don’t have to bring stuff home. But, the gas portion of my Xcel bill is usually 50-60% of the bill, and an old home with windows that need replacing doesn’t help. Every time I save up enough to replace windows I buy a new bike instead, doh! Maybe this year, although I have my eye on some Italian hand built machines that will easily wipe out any funds for windows!

  • mrbill says:

    Good post, very interesting

  • allison says:

    Cool write-up, thanks! I’ve been unplugging more and more minor appliances when we’re gone for the weekend. Unfortunately the bill never seems to change. 🙂

  • Wow Sonya, thank you for suggesting our product the Smart Strip! The other solutions you mentioned are pretty fascinating too, especially ‘Green Switch.’ This is the first time I’ve heard of it.

    Our Smart Strip is good for knocking out standby power–Energy Star once told us a while back they couldn’t certify us because they’d have to invent a new category for us, and it would seem like favoritism because no other product came close enough to our power savings to qualify under any set of rules that could reasonably define us. Of course, that was over a year ago, so some other products have come out and we’re trying again for a cert. ^_^

    A couple other ways the Smart Strip saves power:
    1. It can be set up for your computer’s sleep cycle; when your computer sleeps, it shuts everything else off, like printers and speakers.
    2. It ‘washes’ power, which means canceling out the smaller surges and dips to provide an even flow of power to anything plugged into it. Normally, when something uses a brief surge of power–like turning on your microwave, for example–everything else takes a short hit when power is redistributed. Then it spikes back up when the microwave is done cooking. This causes wear and tear on your products, wastes power, and ultimately causes long term drag as internal electrical circuits degrade and require more power to function. The Smart Strip has state-of-the-art noise reduction which smooths out the flow.

    We’re having a fire sale on the manufacturer’s website for the SCG5. Normally it’s around $36, right now we’re selling it for the same price as the base model SCG3. We offer free standard ground shipping and guarantee our quality. Check it out at

  • Screwdriver says:

    The most comprehensive info I have found on this subject on the net. Will be back soon to follow up.

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