Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?
Power Technology

Curbing Energy Use In Appliances That Are Off 409

KarmaOverDogma writes "The New York Times has an interesting piece on the slow but steady movement to reduce the power drain for appliances that are never truly turned off when they are powered down. In the typical house that's enough to light a 100-watt light bulb 24/7, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, a research arm of the Energy Department. In the United States alone, over $1 billion per year is spent powering devices such as TV's VCR's, Computers and Chargers while they are 'off.' Called 'vampires' and 'wall-warts' by Energy Experts, there has been growing support of their recommendations to adopt industry-wide standards, which would require manufacturers to build appliances with significantly lower consumption when not in use."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Curbing Energy Use In Appliances That Are Off

Comments Filter:
  • Have the industries make green power that can be used to mitigate the energy costs, and is easy and affordable for home use. That would give them a bit more incentive to innovate in the solar and wind power markets, and may eventually have an impact on the demand for coal and oil.
  • by jacksonai ( 604950 ) <> on Friday November 18, 2005 @10:51PM (#14068398) Homepage
    Seriously, how low can they make the power consumption without raising the price of the item significantly? It seems to me that with Energy Star, eco friendly should already be in the stuff we buy.
  • Meter (Score:2, Insightful)

    by 42Penguins ( 861511 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @10:54PM (#14068412)
    Do I smell the need for a review of an in-between appliance and wall power meter? What are some good ones that you've seen/used?
  • by l2718 ( 514756 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @10:56PM (#14068416)
    Easy solution: why does every *****ing appliance need to tell me what time it is?
  • thats it? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Joffy ( 905928 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @10:58PM (#14068423)
    One 100 watt light bulbs worth? Making everyone use more efficient lights would save a lot more than that. Filament based lights have got to go! My gadget's LEDs are more than enough to light my room!!
  • by bryan8m ( 863211 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @11:02PM (#14068441)
    What's the point of making more energy when a good chunk of it will go to waste? Green energy is good, but it's not to be wasted.
  • by pla ( 258480 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @11:06PM (#14068457) Journal
    Seriously, how low can they make the power consumption without raising the price of the item significantly?

    How about "very nearly zero"? Ideally, an "off" device would draw zero watts, but I realize we expect our toys to respond at a moments notice, and that takes some electricity.

    My TV, when off, draws 7 watts. That presumeably lets it remember its settings and watch for activity from the remote control. Those two tasks, however, should draw in the low milliwatts, certainly not more than a full watt.

    Printers also tend to have a very high idle current draw (and by idle I mean cold and in standby not just "not printing". 20-25W seems common for that - More than the total I use for actively lighting my house under normal conditions (assuming three CF lighbulbs at once, fron 5 to 9 watts each).

    Of course, I think we'd do a lot better to worry about the active draw of our appliances. For example, the humble 19" box-fan draws a whopping 150W on high. With only a tiny increase in cost, that can drop by a factor of three, yet no one cares because no one realizes what a massive power sucker they have sitting happily humming in the window.
  • Re:here ye! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 18, 2005 @11:07PM (#14068460)
    > At least with a computer, you can flip the power supply and have it *off* off...right?

    Not with the new ATX power supplies that Al Gore pushed so hard. He claimed that since the average computer user is so stupid that they're not smart enough to turn their own computers and monitors on and off. So now we have monitors that are on all of the time looking for a video signal, and ATX power supplies that supply 5V all of the time. I miss the good old days when monitors and computers had real power switches and you could turn them off. Thanks to Al Gore's campaign, we're no longer allowed that.

    Aside: I was at UGA when Al Gore spoke there when he was pushing his book in 1990. I still can't believe he told us, a group of college students, that we weren't smart enough to control a power switch. We were smart enough to boo and call him names. What a damn moron.
  • Re:$4 a person? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 18, 2005 @11:08PM (#14068463)
    He probably complains about having to pay for modest increases in fuel prices, I bet.
  • Re:$4 a person? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DigitalRaptor ( 815681 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @11:13PM (#14068487) Homepage
    It's not just the individual cost, it's the collective cost on the environment and the over-taxing of an already strained electrical system.

    For instance, if every household in America replaced one normal light bulb with a compact flourescent it would have the same environmental impact as taking 1 million cars off the road.

    There are plenty of simple actions that in and of themselves don't matter. But when multiplied by the number of people involved can spiral out of control.

    If one person goes to the beach and takes a few buckets of sand home for a sandbox, no big deal. If every single person that goes to the beach takes home a few buckets, there wouldn't be beaches.

    The problem with every device using 90% more electricity than it should while "off" or in sleep mode is that every device in every household adds up to a LOT of consumption.

  • by Phat_Tony ( 661117 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @11:28PM (#14068554)
    I remember during the early 90's, when the appliances that wouldn't turn off started to take over. The first appliances I remember that wouldn't turn off were VCRs from the mid 80's- they offered the feature of being impossible to turn off without unplugging them, and always helpfully flashing "12:00" on the display when plugged in. As my parent slowly replaced old appliances with new ones, I remember tech support phone calls from my parents:

    "How do I turn it off"
    "Press the 'power' button"
    "I did that, but there's still a light on."
    "That's the 'standby' light."
    "The what?"
    "That's the light that comes on to tell you that the appliance is off."
    "I don't know why."
    "You mean one light or another is going to be on the entire time we own this appliance, unless we unplug it?"
    "Yep. Get used to it. Everything's that way now."

    It used to be that the power button was just a switch that did the same thing as unplugging it, to save you the inconvenience. They've now thoughtfully removed that feature; if you really want it OFF, you have to go back to unplugging it again.

    All of this coincided with a preponderance of clocks. I can see two engineers somewhere having a conversation:
    "Have you noticed how cheap digital clocks have gotten?"
    "Yeah! Let's put them in everything!"

    I remember when my neighbor's old analogue kitchen wall clock died, so he said he'd better shop for a new one. I asked him if he really needed another, because there were already digital clocks on his coffee machine, oven, range top, microwave, radio, and even toaster oven. Pretty much everything that used electricity in the kitchen except the refrigerator and mixer had their own LED clock.

    They still replaced the wall clock. It's the only one they looked at. It came as news to them that they already had six clocks in their kitchen. They'd never noticed them.

    Feature-creep didn't originate with software.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 19, 2005 @12:17AM (#14068791)
    Yes, because NYT's audience isn't all EE's.

    Have you ever taken a writing class before? Are you going to tell 'ma and 'pa about power factors? How about how transformers are a waste of energy because of their impedance when the downstream side isn't consuming energy?

    Seriously, there is nothing wrong in saying you're using 100 Watts all the time. Comparing it to 100 Watt bulb is the best analogy one could provide. How else is someone going to visualize power consumption? Do you really think people would understand that it wastes 84,400 Joules per day, or have any conception how much energy that is?
  • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @12:41AM (#14068905)
    I've since been desoldering leds, and using X10 modules to turn off VCR clocks (I have both a watch and a cellphone - but thanks for the valueadd of a clock on my microwave, coffee maker, vcr, phone, scale, etc.)

    The problem isn't the clock in the device. The clock logic and LED display use up a tiny fraction of one watt. The problem is the power supply.

    Take the microwave for example: people expect to be able to walk up and start punching in a cooking time without first having to push a huge mechanical power switch. (The manufacturer doesn't want to design in a costly extra power switch either.)

    This means that the electronics need to be powered on at all times. That wouldn't be a problem, but most appliances use a simple transformer to drive their power supplies. Inexpensive transformers are leaky even when they are supplying no current to the secondary, so the microwave's transformer is probably wasting a couple of watts at all times. The solution to the problem is a better power supply, not omitting the clock or desoldering LEDs.

    Some recent wall warts and power bricks that I've got weigh almost nothing and don't seem to get hot. I presume that they've put in switching power circuits and eliminated the 60Hz transformer altogether. Putting that kind of power supply in every appliance would go a long way towards solving this problem.

  • by IvyKing ( 732111 ) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @01:51AM (#14069167)
    current x potential x power_factor = power
    Power factor varies from 0 (pure reactance) to 1 (pure resistance) and is equal to the cosine of the difference between the current phase and voltage phase. Other than that minor goof, a very nice write-up.

    The most compelling reason for using the "Kill-A-Watt" over a multimeter is safety. We had someone at work who wanted to brew up a power line wattmeter, and I persuaded him that it would be cheaper and much safer to buy a ready made wattmeter. The project did get mentioned on Slashdot a few months back - adapting a Mac Mini to run on batteries.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 19, 2005 @02:09AM (#14069234)
    Assuming you're not getting up several times through the night to open the fridge, why not unplug it too?

    Either way it costs you the same amount of energy to keep the temperature constant. If you unplug it at night, it will just be that much warmer in the morning.

    In fact, since power is cheaper at night, you are probably better off unplugging it while you are at work during the day. Unless you have a habit of working late. :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:11AM (#14070443)
    1) Fans don't always draw their stated power. Put a meter on it to find out.

    2) A lot of the cost goes into the quality. e.g. ball bearings instead of sleeve.

    3) Fans would do better with better magnets. e.g. higher cost.
      3a) Electronic controls likewise cost.

    4) Piezoelectric fans work for some applications (usually small).
      4a) Same with piezomotors.
  • by Technician ( 215283 ) on Sunday November 20, 2005 @02:13AM (#14073964)
    What's the point of making more energy when a good chunk of it will go to waste? Green energy is good, but it's not to be wasted.

    I agree, but sometimes the articles focus on the needle and not the haystack.

    First point... Commuting and green cars. Getting great gas milage is fine, but moving from a small town to the big city for a better job changed my commute from a 10 minute walk to a 45 minute drive each way. Zoning is OK to a point, but a mix of houses and businesses and schools is better than having a city center and bedroom communities which only have strip malls, convience stores, schools and parks. How about putting low/non polluting industry in some neighborhoods for low distance commutes?

    Long commutes is our biggest gas waste. City planners need to focus on getting homes/jobs/schools/parks less spread out. Traffic/pollution/costs all decrease when consolidated.

    Second point.. With heat, light, AC, entertainment, communications stuff on a typical house with a family of 4, energy costs for many is in the neighborhood of 30KWH/day. A 100 watt idle draw for everyting in the house is 2.4 KWH/day. I am saving more moving to a house with 6 inch walls, insulated floors, a foot of insulation in the attic from my old house with uninsulated floors and R-11 walls and R14 roof.
    At 0.12/KWH the 2.4KWH/day is a small portion of my electric & heating energy costs.

    A note on the TV idle draw. It isn't the remote reciever that is the power hog. It's the pre-warmed picture tube. I used to repair TV's and got to know the hot when off sections. Cold/hot cycling of the tube shortens the tube life and makes long warm-up times. Having the tube 3/4 warm drasticly reduces thermal cycle shocks and makes them almost instant-on. Some early (1970's Jimmy Carter years) instant on sets had an energy saver switch on the back that would turn off this feature. Cost cutting in manufacturing eliminated the seldom used switch. Pick up a plug in cycle timer (I know more idle watts) to power down the TV, cable box/satelite box, broadband modem, and stereo system at night and morning when nobody is home. They often are all located together. Some electronic progrommable timers draw very little power.

    Add a wind up timer to your bathroom fan. Forgetting to turn off the fan after clearing the steam from your morning shower can dump a lot of heated/cooled air out of the house. This is one place a $20 timer can pay for itself in a short time. It saves not only the power the fan uses, but also the cost of the heated/cooled air that gets dumped from excessive run-times.

    Add a motion wall switch to your hall and stairway light. No need to leave it on all the time anymore.

Nothing is finished until the paperwork is done.