Cut phantom power to lower energy costs

Photo: istockphoto.com/chris brink
How much energy are you wasting without knowing it?

Phantom loads may be adding to your electricity bill without you even being aware of them. It's time to take action against standby power.

Everywhere in our home 
Phantom loads may be adding to your electricity bill without you even being aware of them. It's time to take action against standby power.

Everywhere in our home
This invisible power consumption is the result of "standby power" – the term used to describe the electricity that keeps the clocks, timers, remote controls and other features on our home electronics working and ready to go on the instant we press a button. But this means our televisions, CD players, computers, microwaves, cordless phones use energy even when we've turned them off.

Standby for a higher hydro bill
Individually these products don't consume a lot of electricity in standby mode, but put them together and these phantom loads start to add up.

"Home owners should be concerned about phantom loads because of the proliferation of many stand-by products that invariably affect your hydro bill. As you bring more products into your house that use energy in stand-by mode (like microwaves and stoves with clocks, battery re-chargers, cordless phones and computers) your hydro bill will be higher even if you are buying energy efficient products," said Anne Wilkins, a senior manager with Natural Resources Canada.

On the bandwagon
Phantom loads are definitely growing. The average Canadian or American home already has 25 or even more products that use standby power – devices that are consuming electricity 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is estimated that standby power accounts for as much as 10 percent of the average household's annual electricity consumption.

The simplest solution to phantom loads is to control the loads with power bars. Plug appliances like your computer and television into a power bar and plug the power bar into the wall. That way you can shut down everything at once.

Taking action
While power cords work for certain electronics, very few of us would want the inconvenience of plugging and unplugging our microwaves, refrigerators and clocks every time – not to mention setting all the clocks. There are other ways to reduce energy wasted by standby power but it starts with the manufacturers.

In most cases, products can be designed so that only a minimal amount of power is required to provide the standby function. Many countries are starting to look at these products and regulating their energy performance including appliances, lighting, and heating and air-conditioning system.

Canadian government takes a stand
Canada recently announced it will be putting new standards in place to limit the amount of power consumed by products in standby mode. Energy-efficiency regulations are a proven way to reduce consumption and protect the environment.

"If all the products that use standby power were limited to one watt, the average household's electricity bill would drop by at least $35 a year," said Gary Lunn, Minister of Natural Resources. "Consumers will start to see these savings once the regulations come into effect and they begin to replace older products with new, more efficient models."

It is estimated the savings would equal the amount of electricity needed to power 400,000 homes. Emissions reductions would be equivalent to taking a large coal-fired power generating unit offline.

One is enough
Canada's action reflects a growing international movement to address the energy wasted by standby power, and supports the "1-Watt Initiative" promoted by the International Energy Agency, urging a one-watt standby power limit for all energy-using products.

Given the extensive trade in consumer electronics between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, Canada is encouraging its North American partners to adopt similar standards for standby power to save even more energy and facilitate trade.

The new standby power regulations will be implemented in two steps, with the first standard being put in place in 2008, followed by a more stringent standard in 2010.

This article was written with information supplied by Natural Resources Canada.