Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


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This discussion has been archived.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:
  • by DigitalRaptor ( 815681 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @10:53PM (#14068407) Homepage
    I've read that many VCR's, DVD's, etc. use as much electricity when "off" as they do when in use, with the difference being as little as the amount of electricity used by the electric motors actually used to spin the DVD or move the tape.

    That is just lazy design and very wasteful.

    Some things like a Tivo of course need to remain "on" to record upcoming shows, but even then should be in a deep sleep until needed. However, that is not the case. They sit there, actively sucking down juice 24/7/365.

  • by cyclocommuter ( 762131 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @10:54PM (#14068411)
    I have been noticing that more of the latest gadgets like HDTVs, subwoofers, amplifiers, DVD players, etc., now just go into standby mode instead of turning off. I could actually hear the transformer of my subwoofer humming even when it is supposed to be off... The only way to turn it completely off is to unplug the power cord.
  • by bergeron76 ( 176351 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @10:55PM (#14068415)
    How about a switch in each room that turns off all the crap inside of it?

    I've audited my home for vampires, and 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.)

  • $4 a person? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by readin ( 838620 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @10:57PM (#14068417)
    In the United States alone, over $1 billion per year is spent...

    The US has about 300 million people. So that's less than $4 per person per year, or 16 bucks for a family of 4. Doesn't seem worth worrying about to me. A family of 4 spends more than that on a single tank of gas for their car.
  • Wind power (Score:3, Interesting)

    by saskboy ( 600063 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @10:57PM (#14068419) Homepage Journal
    I'd like someone to invent small wind generation units, that people can mount on their roof, and it would provide power to "vampire devices" so that your TV, VCR, and other remote controlled devices can have power, but not use anything from the power grid until they are turned on.

    Solar power would work too, but I suspect wind would be more powerful with a small generator, but anyone is free to correct me if they know better.
  • Kill A Watt (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DigitalRaptor ( 815681 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @10:58PM (#14068420) Homepage
    I've long since wanted to get a Kill A Watt Meter [] to check the power consumption of the equipment I have. At $35 it's a bargain.

    With electricity prices skyrocketing I'm noticing which lights are on the most and replacing them with full spectrum compact flourescents [] that have a really nice, white light but use about 1/5 the juice.

  • power strips (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 18, 2005 @10:59PM (#14068425)
    All of the power strips I see in Japan have switches next to each socket to turn off the socket for each individual appliance. Looks like a good solution to me.
  • by Spoke ( 6112 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @11:02PM (#14068442)
    I used to have a digital cable box which sucked down 30-45w all the time (or something, don't have it anymore, ditched it for normal cable). On/off, didn't make a difference. That thing was always hot.

    I've got plenty of wall-worts which suck power, even when nothing is plugged into them, but it's a PITA to unplug them. If the power strips they were plugged into didn't have other electronics plugged in, it'd be easy enough to hit that switch, but who wants a power strip or switch on every single wall-wart they have?

    Replacing the power supplies in my PCs with a high efficiency units from Seasonic made a noticable difference. Power draw was reduced 20-30% all the time which is nice.

    The charger for my Samsung A670 cell phone is the best, it doesn't use any power when plugged in without the phone. It's so light and small, it doesn't have your typical AC/DC converter in there, not sure how they convert wall power to DC to charge it.
  • Wall Wart Pet Peeve (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ritz_Just_Ritz ( 883997 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @11:03PM (#14068443)
    My pet peeve is the almost unlimited combination of wall wart connectors, polarity, output voltage, output current, etc. Wouldn't it be so much easier if there was some sort of standard wall wart power supply with a standard connector? If you're a gadget geek, you wind up with a rather unwieldy pile of these things in your home and many of them invariably wind up staying plugged in all the time. You can tell they're using energy since they're always a bit warm to the touch, even when the actual device that's supposed to use it isn't even plugged in. Once they standardize the form factor, perhaps they could actually enhance them to the point where quiescent energy usage is much lower.
  • Re:here ye! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @11:18PM (#14068506) Journal
    I use optical mice. When the computer is turned off, the optical mice are still glowing. I need to physically flip the power switch on the back of the computer to turn it off. Simply turning the computer off with the standard switch or using windows to shutdown the computer doesn't mean the thing isn't still eating juice. Also windows takes incredibly slow to shutdown, so I used to use the powerbutton. Somewhere between 95-2000, they changed the power button so it sends a signal to windows before it shuts down instead of brute forcing it. So nowadays, I am a fan of pulling the powercable out of the back of the machine to shut things off. It saves time and power, and sometimes its a way to prevent a virus from fully propogating on your system(yah I stopped a virus manually like this once).

    I've also heard that its more efficient to leave your computer on all the time because the amount it costs in wear and tear on your computer is more than the power saved by doing it. Anyone hear of this rumor or know anything about it?
  • by digitaldc ( 879047 ) * on Friday November 18, 2005 @11:23PM (#14068528)
    "Energy efficiency experts say the answer lies instead in industry-wide standards, which would require manufacturers to build appliances with low consumption when in standby."

    Wouldn't it be nice if the 'Energy experts' spent more time promoting the most obvious source of free power in (and out of) the world; solar power?

    Installing just a few solar roof shingles would easily off-set the cost of vampire appliances.
    see: []

    Not only do they generate power for your whole household, they end up paying for themselves when you produce a greater current than you are taking in. The energy is sent back to the power line and the energy company pays you.
  • Re:$4 a person? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FFFish ( 7567 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @11:25PM (#14068538) Homepage
    No shit. Over the past couple years I've replaced a furnace that has dropped my natural gas usage by over 40%, moved to CFLs as lightbulbs burn out, installed a smart thermostat, wrapped my hot water tank, and am making plans to renovate the kitchen, replacing an inefficient refridgerator, stove (goin' gas!), and dishwasher.

    I'm hardly going to feel bad because my television, stereo, and a few wall-wart power adapters are the equivalent of leaving a lightbulb on. Good god, let's worry about something that really matters, like why this model year's cars use almost as much gas as they got back in 1965. We've gained only a one mile per gallon in efficiency every five years?! WTF?
  • by Matthew Bafford ( 43849 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @11:36PM (#14068579) Homepage
    I thought it was interesting that in England TVs have a true off setting as well. Basically a real switch on the front of the TV that turns it totally off. I got caught quite a few times by turning the TV off by the switch on the front - and then the remotes wouldn't turn it back on.

    Totally unlike how American TVs tend to work.
  • Re:here ye! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @11:38PM (#14068585)
    I still can't believe he told us, a group of college students, that we weren't smart enough to control a power switch.

    Hey, guess what: People aren't smart enough to turn off their equipment.

    At one place I worked at a few years back, almost all of the CRTs in the offices would sit drawing > 100W each showing screen savers every night and weekend. I usually would at least swing by the lab on my way out each night and turn off about 1000W worth of monitors left on by others.

    Al Gore was exactly right. The 2W drawn by a sleeping monitor would come out as a win if even only 10% of the people left their monitors on. And from what I've seen, far more than 10% don't bother to shut off their monitors.

  • Re:power strips (Score:2, Interesting)

    by entirety ( 909951 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @11:43PM (#14068608)
    Mod Parent down... I lived in Japan for many years... Switches next to sockets are not common throughout Japan. Those who think the Japanese are ahead of the US at everything have never been outside of Tokyo. The people are just as hosed, if not more, as the US folks are. I can tell you that they use a lot of fluorescent lights though. But with all the neon signs perhaps it is a break even.

    Don't hate me... Love me for breaking your paradigms... Now, give me one of dem nickels!
  • Optimization (Score:2, Interesting)

    by everphilski ( 877346 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @11:44PM (#14068613) Journal
    Your absolutely right. There are other very simple things, very cheap things - for example, insulative lining around your windows and doors, double paned windows, etc - that will save you so much more. $4 a person is a piss in the lake in comparison. My take? its a marketing scheme to get us to replace our existing appliances.
  • welcome to 2001 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by YesIAmAScript ( 886271 ) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @12:01AM (#14068715),1558,87100,0 0.asp []

    George Bush campaigned for this stuff back in the early days. I may not like the guy much, but he was right about this. Companies consistently make their products more power inefficient just to make them cheaper, because very very few people pay attention to efficiency of appliances. They save a few pennies on day 1 and give it back and then some every year.

    Energy Star has been incredibly effective. The cheapest refrigerator you buy is within 80% as efficient as the most efficient models. This is definitely not true with many other classes of devices (like lights!).

    Bush also inadvertently coined a great spoonerism about power-stealing vampires when talking about this initiative.
  • by Latent Heat ( 558884 ) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @12:09AM (#14068757)
    Solar and energy conservation are not exclusive options. However, solar is about 5 dollars per peak watt, and that isn't even talking about finding a roofing contracter you can trust to put the panel up on the roof without introducing roof leaks. If you average 6 hours peak sun a day, you are talking 30 dollars per average watt for solar panels.

    Suppose a transformer wall wart uses 4 watts and you can replace it with a solid-state ferrite switcher that uses .5 watts. It would take nearly 100 dollars of solar panel to do the same thing.

    Oh, and about back feeding the line, you could probably get away with a small amount of back feed and just don't tell anyone about it. If you put up a serious solar panel setup and plan to back feed enough that the power company will notice, they get real, real huffy about that. In fact, they are supposed to by law buy back your power, but they really hate that. I was at an alternate energy fair where the local utility was touting their wind mills (you pay extra for the bragging rights of getting "green power"), and when I asked the utility dude about home solar panels and back feeds, he was telling me about all kinds of restrictions (two meter arrangements where you pay more for incoming and get back less on outgoing), and when I mentioned the laws regulating buyback, the fellow got in my face an I thought I would get punched. So much for committment to green power.

  • light pollution (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @12:15AM (#14068781) Homepage
    There's also a problem with light pollution in cities. Too many businesses leave bright lights on all night, which lights up the sky and makes it impossible to see the stars. Amateur astronomers have to drive farther and farther to get to dark skies. I'd imagine this is a much bigger waste of energy than people's VCRs always keeping an LED on. A few towns have passed light pollution ordinances.
  • Re:It's about time. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @12:58AM (#14068967) Homepage Journal
    and the "power" LED.

    On some very low powered devices you can actually get a big increase in battery life by disconnecting the power LED :)

  • by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @01:05AM (#14068997)
    The same is true of australian TVs.

    All the TVs in this house have off buttons on the front that power it off so that all it does is remember settings and a standby mode on the controler.

    The Foxtel (Sattelite TV) box is always on and sucking juice.
    There is a "off" mode but all that really does is shuts down the video output, its still awake and listening to the sattelite (so it can download firmware updates, recieve encryption keys for the channels you are subscribed to and so on as well as notify the central server how much to bill you for PPV etc)
  • by woolio ( 927141 ) * on Saturday November 19, 2005 @01:22AM (#14069061) Journal
    It SHOULD be in everything but its not...

    I'm noticing that my brand-new laser printer manages to still make the lights flicker wildly even hours after its LCD screen reads "sleeping...". WTF!?!

    Even on a less dramatic scale. I bet things like VCRs draw tons of power while off just due to power supply circuits of a brain-dead design.

    For example, I do know that some types of power supplies (switching) are not stable unless a *minimum* amount of current is drawn. I'd guess that some devices either have a "dummy load" to ensure this or use even less efficient techniques of supplying power (such as a resistor divder instead of a transformer). Both result in unnecessary consumption of energy albeit reduced manufacturing cost...

    Consider this: Your cell phone is highly energy-efficient. But what motivation is there to produce energy-efficient chargers? NONE, since they rely on wall-power or car-power... Primary motivation for these is cost -> low part count.

    Also, I wonder if enough consumer equipment doesn't have power factor correction circuitry to cause a significant amount of waste... Anything with a switching power supply (practically everything electronic these days) would generally have a non-ideal power factor unless it contained *additional* capacitors to correct. I think highly non-ideal power factor devices cause (additional) high amounts of current to flow at certain times (but average to zero). Although they would average out to zero, loss due to resistance in lines causes some energy wasted...
  • by bigbigbison ( 104532 ) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @01:50AM (#14069164) Homepage
    I typically plug most of my stuff into powerstrips and with the exception of the cable box which takes forever to restart, I turn the powerstrips off every night before I go to bed. Most of these components I've had for at least 5 years and none of them have any problems working as soon as I turn the powerstrip back on. Even my reciever remembers all of its settings and I've left the powerstrip turned off on it for weeks while on vacation.

    Of course this raises the question, "if they work fine after having no power sent to them, then why are they made to draw power even when they are off???" Can anyone answer that?

    I got in the habit when I lived in the dorms in college and could hear the stuff humming while I was trying to sleep and just kept doing it ever since. I suppose it is like these electronic thermostats that seem so popular. My family always just turned it down before the last person went to sleep at night...

    Realistically, there are tons of other places that waste much more electricity than appliances. Basically all the buildings at all the universities I've either studies or worked at leave lots of lights on 24/7. During holiday breaks, I've even tried to turn off the lights in the hallway of our dept. office only to come back the next day to find that someone has turned them back on and left them on. Of course that isn't even mentioning the fact that the heat in our building can't be adjusted and so during the winter it is so hot we open the windows in the hall and turn the AC on in our offices (and I do just turn the "Fan" part of the AC unit on since it is winter and cold out, but many of others do actually put the AC on high)...
    or the fact that we are told not to turn off our office computers, or the people who live four blocks away but still seem to need to drive to the office...

    While I haven't done any calculations on it, I would imagine that fixing the heating in our department building would save more energy than all of the department members unplugging their electonics while not in use...
  • by ZorinLynx ( 31751 ) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @01:56AM (#14069185) Homepage
    I don't believe modern TVs do this.

    It used to be common years ago, though. My family had a Panasonic TV that would INSTANTLY display a picture when powered on. No warmup time! If you looked through the vent slots when it was off, you could see the CRT cathode heaters glowing very softly. They glowed dimmer than they did when the TV was on, but they stayed warm enough for an instant image.

    The TV had a "vacation" switch on the back that acted as an on/off switch for this feature. When in "vacation" mode, the TV would take about 30 seconds to warm up! I guess older tubes had more thermally massive heaters, and had extreme warmup times, which is why the TVs had this "warm standby" state. New cathodes warm up quickly enough that it's no longer a problem.

  • by cdn-programmer ( 468978 ) <(ten.cigolarret) (ta) (rret)> on Saturday November 19, 2005 @01:57AM (#14069190)
    I think I read somewhere that 60% of homes are heated by methane (CH4) (Natural Gas). Last I checked today the price of Nat Gas is $11.41 and I expect this is at the Henry Hub and the units are MM-btu's (ie 1 million btu). The conversion factor between MM-btu and GJ is 1.054615. For some reason the "units" program shows this conversion factor as 1.0550559. This is close enough for the girls I go with.

    Since there are 3600 seconds in an hour an energy consumption of 1 kWh is equivalent to an energy consumption of 3600 kilojoules. Eg - for the units impaired we do this:

    kWh => k(W)(h) => k(j/s)(h) => k(j/s)(3600s) => k(j)(3600)(s/s) => 3600 kj = 3.6*10^6j = 3.6e6j (the later being scientific notation)

    We know the price of NatGas is 11.41 for 1 MM-btu (10^6 btu = 1e6 btu)

    multiply by 1.054615 and we get about $12 bux = 1Gj = 10^9j = 1e9j

    divide by 1000 to get: $0.012 = 10^6j = 1e6j

    but: kWh = 3.6e6j = 3.6(1e6j) = 3.6 * 0.012 = 4.3 cents.

    This is a wholesale price for natgas. Wholesale prices for electricty are about 5 cents per kWh. Delivered prices are about 2x in both cases as well. Check your energy bills.

    What this shows is that at present prices, the cost of energy from a source such as delivered natural gas is about the same as the cost of energy from electricty. When you consider that electricty can be used to drive a heat pump (whole house negative fridge) at an overall thermal effciency of upwards of 300% if earth or lake coupled then it is actually cheaper and more energy efficient to heat our homes with electricty rather than natural gas. Ditto with oil.

    Now a standard incandecent heater (light bulb) is upwards of 90% efficient. IE - when you run your incandecent heater you leak about 10% or so of the energy in the visible spectrum while the vast majority of the energy is retained as usable heat. Much of the visible light falls on walls and floors and furniture and people and pets and most of this energy is also salvaged eventually as heat. Only that small portion which leaks out of windows is actually lost.

    Hense we can say that the heating effciency of an incandecent lightbulb is pretty close overall to 100% so it really is pretty close to being on par with natural gas and other energy sources such as oil.

    What this means is that the energy loss from appliances offsets the energy consumption from the furnace and the prices are so close it is more or less a wash. If we check the futures prices on Natural Gas come March we may find the old 100 watt light bulbs are cheaper.


    What these calculations demonstrate is that in the winter heating season the only path to energy conservation is through attention to the building envelope. Energy efficient appliances accomplish next to nothing (in colloqial French Canadian this is loosely translated to SFA).

    However in the cooling season in summer the story is a lot different. These applicances during summer add to the cooling load of the building and this load is very considerable. Still in summer if we pay attention again to the building envelope then we can eliminate a huge percentage of the energy that must be pushed out of the building against the thermal gradient by the HVAC system. Note that in this case the Delta-T for an air coupled system might be sitting at say 40F while the Delta-T for an earth or water coupled system might only be 10F.

    So energy efficient appliances and lighting starts to make a great deal of sense once we get the building envelope insulation up where it should be which in Northern States and Canada is probably north of R50 in the walls and R70 in the ceilings. Then we can use the electricty saved to run a small earth or water coupled HVAC/Heat pump system and in so doing more or less eliminate the dependancy on Natural Gas and heating oil.

    However with the typical homes we live in - especially in the winter time - its a wash. Pay for your energy as electricity or pay for it as Nat Gas.
  • by letxa2000 ( 215841 ) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @02:38AM (#14069309)
    I think people should get their priorities in order. Rather than get worked up over low priority/impact stuff. Makes me wonder if politicians or someone is trying to distract people from more important stuff.

    I can't speak for everyone--and I believe our power consumption is probably below typical American averages--but we use about 11kWh per day. If our wall warts, etc. are really consuming 2.4kWH per day, that's about 22%! If a country needs 22% less energy, that's a big savings in terms of money, infrastructure, and polution.

    Now like I said, I realize that we're probably way below the American average. In fact, I just did a quick Google lookup and this link [] says the typical American uses 10,000kWh per year--so that'd work out to 27.4kWh/day. So, fine, we use less than half the average. But even so, if the wall warts amount to 2.4kWh/day, that's still close to 10% of the typical American consumers' consumption. That's not insignificant.

  • Re:here ye! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by plover ( 150551 ) * on Saturday November 19, 2005 @02:47AM (#14069335) Homepage Journal
    Obviously you have absolutely no idea how many people don't turn off their gear when they leave. Do you have a clue just how much fuel has been saved by having equipment idle itself down? ATX was a huge win for saving energy.

    As the grandparent poster was discussing, decent power supplies DO have a hardware switch in the back that disconnects the mains power. Everyone knows the "soft off" button leaves the mobo energized. I always require a hardware switch when shopping for power supplies. I prefer to leave the computers plugged in while I work on them because I like having the chassis grounded.

    [Re: Al Gore -- grow up. He was most likely speaking in generics; people do it all the time. Most people, especially groups of college students, are able to understand the difference between a generic statement an a personal accusation. Perhaps now you can see that there are exceptions to every generalization, which is why they're not called "absolutes." ]

  • Re:fan alternatives (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bxbaser ( 252102 ) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @04:47AM (#14069597)
    Sure and the roi of that neat fan with all the twaeks you speak of would be something like 45 years.
    Im sure my crappy fans cost me 40 cents extra a month but the initial cost was very low.

    If you are talking about just the energy savings you would be better by increasing average automobile mileage by 10%
  • Re:Stereo (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 19, 2005 @05:06AM (#14069627)
    I've actually measures this on my yamaha stereo (I've got a digital watt meter). When on at low volume, it draws just over 20 watts. When off, it is still 14. The thing drawing the power is these displays, not the LCD or LED type, but the one with vacuum technology (can't recall the name right now). These have a filament like old radio tubes and that consumes the power. We also have little Aiwa stereo which has an 'eco' button. All it appears to do is switch off the display, and power consumption drops from 9 to 1 watt. It still reacts to the remote control.
    Our main TV, a 70 cm 4:3 Philips, draws 60 w when operating and 1 w in standby; I selected this model for its low power consumption.
    I think it would help if law made it mandatory to specify in the tech specs of a product and in shops the kWh/year consumed in the 'off' mode ...

  • Re:fan alternatives (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pla ( 258480 ) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @09:03AM (#14070089) Journal
    What product is the result of the tiny increase in cost is it that you write of?

    Honestly, I don't specifically know - I don't work in the fan industry.

    But for comparison, I looked up some real numbers. One popular (on Amazon) model of 20" box fan 20" draws 166W for 2220CFM, or 13.4 CFM/W. An 18" oscillating pedestal fan draws 119W for 1970CFM, or 16.6 CFM/W. And a ceiling fan... Energy Star actually rates those, so they have motivation to perform well for the power they draw. And they do - I can't even do a "fair" comparison based on either power or CFM, because the bad ones do over 100 CFM/W, with the best ones passing 200!

    Of course, that doesn't address price - Amazon has several models of ceiling fan for under $50. The above-mentioned box fan (the Air King 9723) goes for $39.99. Not pennies, but FAR less of a difference in price than the difference in power consumption.

Executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work. -- John G. Pollard