Beware of Vampire Power

Beware of Vampire Power

Residential Perspective: Many electronic appliances continue to draw power even when they are switched off (TVs, microwaves, AC units, cell phone chargers). Unless you unplug these appliances while they are not in use, you will likely fall victim to what is known as vampire power (also known as standby power or phantom loads). While these “leaks” may seem like an insignificant amount of energy, vampire power adds up over time across the millions of homes in the US. Recent estimates suggest that, in the US, 5% of residential electricity use comes from leaking electricity. Because the US consumes 26% of the world’s energy, 5% is equivalent to the country of Italy’s yearly energy consumption. Vampire power not only inflates monthly electricity bills, but it also takes a toll on the environment as excess energy will be required from the grid whose power is mostly derived from fossil fuels. In 2019, 63% of US electricity generation was sourced from fossil fuels. Berkeley Labs has estimated that, in the US, vampire power contributes 27 megatons of CO2 to our atmosphere every year.

Business Perspective: Vampire power is not specific to residential consumers of electricity. Businesses large and small should aim to reduce potential phantom loads that may be prevalent in their physical locations. Some common electronic appliances costing businesses money while not in use include LCD computer displays on sleep (1.38 W), desktop computers on sleep (21.13 W), laser fax machines on ready (6.42 W), USB hubs left on (2.06 W), laser printers left on (131.07 W), flat top scanners left on (9.6 W), and copiers left on (9.36 W). If offices forget to switch off these appliances each day, it could cost them hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars per year in unnecessary electricity charges.

Solutions: Fortunately, there are several simple solutions to reduce vampire power. First, take a walk through your home or office and identify any appliances that could be generating phantom loads. Many of these appliances can be immediately unplugged. On some occasions, there will be many appliances in close proximity that can be aggregated on a smart power strip. These strips can automatically cut energy to devices that are only pulling a passive load, or you can manually switch off electricity to all plugged-in devices at once, preventing them all from sucking energy from the grid. Some larger appliances cannot be turned off (refrigerator, freezer), but when you make your next upgrade you can look out for Energy Star-certified appliances that consume far less energy.

Taking steps towards mitigating vampire power can lead to significant residential and commercial savings on electricity bills while also reducing carbon output. Minor financial investments in smart power strips or developing office policies encouraging folks to unplug appliances when not in use will pay off handsomely in the long-term.

Much of the information above was pulled from the following helpful links: Phantom Loads, Berkeley Lab, and How Stuff Works.

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