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Standby Power Still Consuming Vampire Energy or Phantom Power Load

Standby Vampire Power
Vampire Power (Credit – SCE)

It’s truly amazing how much standby power our electronics are still consuming even when we aren’t using them.

This phenomena is also referred to as “Vampire Energy” or “Phantom Power Load”.

A quick look around the typical home will show a number of televisions, home entertainment centers, game systems, computers, routers, telephones, power adapters and at least a few digital clocks (oven, microwave, stove-top).

Even though these are all in the the Off position, what it really means is they are in standby power mode just waiting for you to switch them to full power mode.

The reason for this is two fold:

  • the equipment needs a certain amount of electricity to remember all its information (channel settings,  or the clock time)
  • it’s really always on even though we aren’t actively using it (like a router or a power adapter / wall wart)

Both of these are related to our need for  instant gratification – consumers no longer want to wait 30 to 60 seconds for a television to warm up, minutes for a network router to reconnect with the service provider or many minutes for a cable box to re-acquire all its channel / guide information from the distributor. Also, it makes the electronics less expensive as they don’t require memory storage to retain all this information, and they typically last longer since there is no power-up / power-down transients each time it’s used.

But we pay a price for this convenience – as much as $75 to $125 a month in vampire electricity. A recent Wall Street Journal article ( The Phantom Strikes Your Wallet ) broke out how the average US home is using energy today, as compared to 20 years ago:

  • Space heating 42% vs 53%
  • Miscellaneous Electronics and Lighting 30 % vs 19%
  • Water heating 18% vs 18%
  • Air Conditioning 6% vs 5%
  • Refrigerators 5% vs 5%

There are a couple of ways to reduce home based phantom load and consequently the load on your local power generation station. Being energy wise at home is good for your wallet and also good for the environment. One is to look for the Energy Star ratings on any new appliance or consumer electronics devices – this will give you a indication of how much energy it will use, and that it meets the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) or DOE (Department of Energy) standards.

Another is to upgrade your house with home automation.

Related Article – Wireless Sensor Networks For Building Automation

These devices are as simple as dumb mechanical timers / switches to control lights to fully programmable, network enabled controllers that you can access through your home wireless network. In addition to lights and anything else that can be plugged into an outlet, the air conditioning and heating can be “learned” by an app controlled smart thermostat called ” Nest “.

A more passive way of saving energy is provided by the manufacturers of the power supplies that convert the 120V ac at the plug to the various dc voltages needed for the motors, semiconductors, circuits, displays, communications and everything else in our devices. As a consumer, you may never give these a second thought. But designers are constantly on the hunt for the most efficient, least heat generating, smallest size, lowest cost per watt power supplies as they develop everything from LED bulbs (to replace those hot, low efficiency incandescent light bulbs), to computers, to televisions, to washers and dryers.

A few companies that make power supplies for the consumer product criteria above (as well as for medical, industrial and military applications) are:

Delta Power

Martek Power (Cooper Industries)

SL Power

Pioneer Magnetics

Keep in mind your electronics are using electricity in standby power, and are truly off only when the plug is pulled or otherwise isolated from the ac source. One other suggestion is to use a power strip / surge protector which has outlets for both “standby devices” and “always-on devices”. On these, when you push the power switch to “off”, only the standby devices get completely discounted. This works great at the desk where the router is “always on” but the computer monitor can be 100% shut down. And there is the added benefit to your electronics with the surge protection.

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