Cutting Your Phantom Loads

I've always liked Tom Murphy's "Do the Math" work, and I really like his latest piece on phantom loads and electricity cutting. That's one of the very first steps for most of us whe we seriously try and cut our electrical usage, but one that a lot of people don't know to do about. We've been able to radically reduce our electric usage by a lot of the same strategies, and they really work:

One of the most important reductions one can make is reduction of baseload power: devices that consume energy 24/7. Every 1 W eliminated removes 9 kWh from the yearly tally and about $1 of yearly cost at nominal electricity prices. Each constant Watt removed saves as much daily energy as one minute of microwave oven cook time (one Watt times 24 hours is the same as 1440 W times 1/60th of an hour: 24 Wh). Constancy is the killer here. We've reduced our utility baseload to about 40 W continuous from an initial 100 W or so. That's about equivalent to the total utility electricity we use now. It can be a big deal.

Lawrence Berkeley Lab put together a useful table of standby power for a number of appliances/devices. Standby power is estimated to consume about 10% of residential power in the U.S. Since the typical household uses 30 kWh per day, this means phantoms slurp 3 kWh per day per household, amounting to 125 W of continuous drain per household, and 14 GW of power production nationally. A dozen super-sized power plants to do nothing.

Imagine that we assign specific tasks to power plants. We have the power plants assigned to lighting applications. There are a goodly number of power plants assigned to running televisions. We've got the hair dryer power plants--fewer now than in the big-hair era of the 1980â²s. A worker at any one of these plants may feel proud to provide essential services to fellow citizens. Then you've got your dozen standby power plants. Imagine the morale at one of those plants: Wally working hard all day, coming home exhausted. But because of poor Wally, our printer could sit doing absolutely nothing and slurping power all day. He really doesn't deserve the nickname Wally Wall-Wart (after the name given to plug-in transformers), because it's our own silly habits and inattention that make Wally go in each day to keep the plant thumping.

This is really important - most of those power plants burn coal. Do we really want to say we warmed the planet because we were too lazy not to?

If you don't have Tom's tools, they can be found - call your state energy agency to see who has loaners. Some public libraries even offer Kill-o-Watts, believe it or not. And if no one does, well, that's an argument for getting together and building a community scale energy-reduction lab with Kill-o-Watts and other electrical detection tools, maybe ways of modeling making window quilts and window pop-ins, and plenty of other strategies.

Actually, that's an idea that deserves its own post. More soon.


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Thanks for this post and the link to Tom's new blog about phantom energy drain. This was a recent discussion at our house and was met with great reluctance because the concept of having to wait for a whole minute for boot up on electronics is just unfathomable. I will, however, prevail, since I am the last one to bed at night. Started using window pop in's in the cave (computer room) since my dracula cannot stand the thought of light intruding, but then noticed the benefit of a lot less heat used in this area. Look forward to your upcoming post on the subject.

Sue B

Some electric companies also loan out Kill-o-Watts. Ours does; we borrowed one.

We don't know why we are using 50% more Kwh/month here in Maine than we did in Pennsylvania. Same appliances, absolutely nothing new (except that I have a new computer, which should be using LESS electricity than my old one). We had an electric water heater there; we have an electric water heater here (and the one here is newer - former owner left us the receipt and manual). We use our (window) A/C less here. We heat with kerosene or wood here, so that cannot explain it. We brought our fridge with us when we moved. We're just at a loss to explain this. We're not happy with the increased bill, that's for sure.


By Pat Meadows (not verified) on 30 Mar 2012 #permalink

Pat, you may want to check the temperature your hot water heater is set to heat to. The temperature gradient between the water and the room it's in is steeper and energy loss is higher when the heater is set to a higher temperature.

By CentralPAchris (not verified) on 30 Mar 2012 #permalink