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HOW TO PLUG APPLIANCES
THAT LEAK ELECTRICITY

Meier and colleagues Steve Greenberg of Berkeley Lab, and Leo Rainer of the Davis Energy Group estimate that the national power consumption lost to leaking electricity is 5 gigawatts (billion watts), or the equivalent of five standard power plants, and growing. The research team is now investigating ways to staunch the flow of wasted wattage.

Reducing or eliminating leaking electricity would have a number of benefits beyond saving energy.

"It would remove a potential fire hazared or a danger of shock--when the appliance is 'off' it is truly off," says Meier. Leaking electricity also generates heat, which increases a home's air conditioning load. And the "leaked" electricity has a poor power factor, meaning that it can degrade the performance of sophisticated electronic equipment such as the home personal computer.

Meier and his colleagues have found some technical options for reducing these leaks, For some appliances, energy leaks emerge from the low voltage power supply (the little black box that plugs into the wall outlet). Cheaper models of these power supplies often have high power losses. Such models can be replaced with existing higher quality, Underwriters Laboratory-certified power supplies with a three-way on-ready-off switch. In the off position, an appliance equipped with one of these is truly turned off.

For consumers with certain battery-based appliances like portable computers or cordless telephones, existing photovoltaic technology provides another solution. Solar PV-charge kits can take the place of the household outlet for keeping some batteries charged.

Finally, to address the power draw of appliances that need continuous energizing such as TVs and VCRs, Meier, Greenberg and Rainer have designed a circuit that draws power only when a small battery mounted in the appliance needs power. The rest of the time, the circuit switches itself off. Manufactures could design these circuits into their appliances.

Excerpted from Berkeley Lab Research Review

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