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Standby power: Avoid the wall-wart

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Study shows Canadian households waste $43 a year to standby power

Posted by Tony Mauro

In case you haven't already heard, here's a reminder about the nastiness of standby power. A lot of the electronics you use today constantly draw power even when they are in an off state.

Don't fret though. There are steps you can take to identify devices with standby power and mitigate how much they consume.

'Hardly anything' adds up

One thing I hear about standby power is that it's hardly any energy at all, less then one watt for most devices. So why worry about that?

Well, it's not about one device – it's about the millions across the province and country. In 2007 Natural Resources Canada estimated that standby power use in the average Canadian household was 470kWh/year of energy.

This works out to about $43 per year for no useful function, about the same as it costs to operate a refrigerator. Canada-wide, that adds up to about $510 million per year!

The regulator's role

The Canadian government has introduced regulations aimed at a reduction of standby power usage, with a target of ensuring that all new devices use less then 1 Watt when in standby mode.

This reduction would reduce household energy cost due to standby power use to about $12 per year and reduce the cost to all households in Canada to $150 million per year.

That's pretty substantial. If you're curious about the work by Natural Resources Canada, check out their standby power site.

Identifying the culprits: what to look for

Not all devices consume standby power so it's important to know what to look for.

There are two things to look for in spotting a device that has standby power use:

  • A wall "wart". Those ugly plugs that use one outlet and tend to cover another are usually culprits.
  • The power "brick". If you follow the cable from the wall and there is a brick like box between the wall and the devices, this is another culprit.

These aren't the only ones to watch for because some devices (like computers) have (competitor) built inside the device. If you really want to play detective you should look at getting a Belkin Conserve Multi Meter to plug your devices into. This should show you which ones consume when off.

Going the extra mile

Even without buying new products that use less standby power, there are certain actions you can take that will drastically change the amount you use.

  1. Power bars. Great for plugging devices like cell phone chargers and computers. When not in use, just flip the power bar to off and standby is eliminated. Check out Future Shop's section of power bars.
  2. Common chargers. Many new devices are USB charged, so that you can use one charger and share it among the devices as needed.
  3. Smart chargers. Check out the Belkin Conserve Valet and similar products. They cut the standby power off when devices are done charging.

Just doing a little bit can help reduce standby power. Learn more in our reduce standby power tip page on bchyro.com.

Tony Mauro is a Power Smart engineer and frequent contributor to Unplug This Blog! and Future Shop's Tech Brand Talk blog.