What is standby power and why is it relevant?

Standby power is electricity used by appliances while they are switched off or not performing their proper function. This electricity is used by power supplies and powers the sensors needed to receive a remote signal, soft keypads and displays including LED status lights. The use of standby power is also caused by circuits that continue to be powered even when the device is “off”.

How can you identify products that have standby power?

Almost any product with an external power supply, for example a remote control, a continuous display (including an LED), or charges batteries will use power constantly. Sometimes there is no obvious sign of constant power usage and you need an energy meter to be certain.


How much standby power does your TV, microwave, etc. use?

Excellent sources exist, such as ENERGY STAR, and the Federal Energy Management Program.

What are Watts?

Watts are a measure of power (technically, Joules/second) comparable to speed (miles/hour). So you need to convert the power into energy (like speed into distance). Here’s an easy conversion factor: if a device draws 1 watt constantly for a year, then its energy consumption was 9 kWh. That corresponds to about £1.00.

So, when the chart says 5 watts, that’s 5 x 9 = 45 kWh/year = £5 per year. You’ll quickly see that almost any single device uses very little in annual electricity usage but, when multiplied by 40+ products, the end sum is significant.

How can you reduce standby power use in your home/business?

It’s not easy, but here are some suggestions:

  • If you aren’t using a device regularly, unplug it. (This works fine for the 6th TV in the guest bedroom) Warning, don’t frequently unplug and plug in appliances because you could get electrocuted from frayed wires and plugs.
  • Use a switchable power strip for clusters of computer or video products. That way you can switch everything to zero with one action.
  • When shopping, search for low standby products. (Asking a salesperson will probably be a waste of time.) ENERGY STAR products have lower standby power.
  • Buy a low-cost watt-meter, measure the devices in your home and take action. You will be surprised at what you find and this might even pay back the cost of the meter in savings.

Limited research suggests that an informed approach can reduce standby use by about 30%. There are more productive ways to save energy with an investment of an hour but if high standby energy use stands between you and the goal of a zero energy home, then it’s an hour well spent.

Is standby power use necessary?power on standby

Sometimes. Certain appliance functions do require small amounts of electricity which include:

  • Maintaining signal reception (for remote control, telephone or network signal)
  • Monitoring temperature or other conditions (such as in a fridge)
  • Powering an internal clock
  • Battery charging
  • Constant display

A good design of an appliance can make the power requirements for these functions very low (but not yet zero).

How much power is used for standby Worldwide?

Nobody knows for sure, but it’s typically 5-10% of domestic electricity use in most developed countries and rising especially in the cities. Standby power in commercial buildings is smaller but still significant. Altogether, standby power use is responsible for 1% of global CO2 emissions.

Is standby power usage growing?

It’s most probably growing. The number of new appliances that constantly use power is increasing rapidly, especially in the developing countries. We suspect that standby power continues to increase.
Can the use of standby power be reduced?

The answer to this question is yes. Many new technologies can improve the efficiency of power supplies, manage the power use more carefully, and limit power use of displays. We believe that it is technically possible to reduce standby power by 75%. Most savings will be less than a watt, but other cases will be as large as 10 watts.

Who came up with the term “energy vampire”?

power-brick-thermographWe don’t know, but what we do know is that it means the energy used by an appliance while it’s switched off so basically what standby power is. However, the term has been around since before 2001. The vampire refers to the external power supplies—the little black cubes/boxes, ac/dc converters, wall-warts —which has two teeth (the plugs) and “suck” the electricity all night. power brick wall wart heat.
The term “leaking electricity” was introduced by a Swedish engineer, Eje Sandberg, in 1993.

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