Electricity used to power consumer electronics and other household devices that are plugged in but not active is estimated to cost U.S. consumers more than $3.5 billion annually. A new study, Leaking Electricity: Standby and Off-Mode Power Consumption in Consumer Electronics and Household Appliances, just published by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), outlines technical and policy options for curbing this largely wasted energy.
Virtually all TVs, VCRs, and other electronic and rechargeable devices in homes today consume electricity when switched off. This "leaking electricity" amounts to an estimated 450 kWh of electricity (at a cost of about $40) each year in the average U.S. household according to the new study. The top 10 products contributing to leaking electricity are color TVs, compact audio systems, VCRs, cable boxes, rack audio systems, telephone answering machines, cordless phones, boomboxes, garage door openers, and video games.
Some of this power is used to support functions such as remote control sensing, programmable user settings, and displays, but a portion of the energy is simply wasted by inefficient transformers and circuits which perform no useful function when the product is turned off. The ACEEE study estimates that almost 75 percent of this electricity could be saved through the use of improved components and product designs.
Data collection efforts spearheaded by ACEEE reveal that products currently on the market use very different power levels to perform the same functions. For example, TVs and VCRs may use as much as 10 to 12 watts or as little as 1 to 2 watts when turned off. "Many of the product features supported during standby mode do provide convenience and utility to the consumer. However, our research has shown that in a number of products these services can be provided at lower power levels and with minimal impact on purchase price," says Jennifer Thorne, ACEEE researcher and coauthor of the report.
In addition to presenting an overview of the magnitude of leaking electricity and the main contributors to leaking electricity, the report addresses a range of technical solutions to help curb these losses by reducing the amount of time or amount of power required of components in standby and by reducing transformer losses. Design options that meet these goals include efficient power supplies, "smart" batteries, flash memory chips, and improved displays.
Policy options available to transform the market for low-leakage products are also covered in the report, including the role of promotion and voluntary product labeling, bulk purchasing programs, and mandatory standards in increasing the availability of products with low standby losses. One voluntary labeling program, the Energy Star® TV/VCR Program, has already been established in the U.S. EPA in conjunction with TV and VCR manufacturers and industry trade associations, including the Electronics Industry Association and the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association, launched the program in January 1998. Preliminary estimates conclude that the program could cut standby energy consumption by 7.8 billion kWh each year if all TVs and VCRs were replaced with Energy Star® compliant models—a savings of more than $650 million. EPA is also actively developing an Energy Star® program for audio equipment and is exploring possible programs for set-top boxes and telephony equipment.
Steps that consumers can take to cut standby power consumption in their own homes, including unplugging devices when convenient, using power strips, recharging cellular phones in their automobiles, and unplugging rechargeables when charging is complete are also addressed.
Written by: Jennifer Thorne and Margaret Suozzo
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