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Phantom Electrical Loads

Phantom electrical loads -
As we work to reduce our use of electricity we tend to look at purchasing more efficient appliances and equipment, but we must also look at what we call phantom loads. Chances are, you’ve never heard of the term “phantom load.” What is it and how does it affect you?

Phantom load, or standby electricity is the energy consumed by appliances when they are not performing their main functions or when they are switched off. The energy wasted in this manner is commonly referred to as “standby loss” or “leaking electricity”. Most people are not aware of the fact that modern electrical and electronic appliances, even those having on/off switches, consume power for standby functions that include features such as powering of the built-in clock or memory, displaying information, responding to remote controls or programming, charging of batteries, etc.

A phantom load is the energy equivalent of a leaky faucet. Household electronics and small appliances you think are turned off may actually still be using small amounts of electricity.

Your TV uses electricity even when turned off. Same goes for your stereo, coffee maker, garage-door opener, microwave oven, clock radio and other electronics. Yes, even chargers for cell phones and MP3 players siphon energy when plugged in - even if they're not charging a thing!

If your home is typical, you live with 20 of these devices that suck up energy. They add about $200 to your annual energy bill, according to Cornell University. That’s because the "off" button doesn’t really mean "off" these days; instead, it means "standby." In fact, your TV with remote control likely uses more energy during the 20 hours a day that it’s turned off and in a "standby power" state than it does during the hours you watch the tube.
The upshot, according to Cornell, is we’re using the equivalent of seven electrical generating plants just to supply vampires that are turned "off."

Nationally, phantom loads make up about six percent of our energy consumption. This translates into billions of dollars spent and countless amounts of pollution emitted into our air. Obviously, phantom loads are a huge problem, especially as energy costs rise
For example, a video cassette recorder (VCR) is used for only about 5 per cent of the time while it remains in standby state during the remaining 95 per cent of the day. Little do we realize that only 15 per cent of the power it uses is consumed during its operation and 85 per cent of the power it uses is consumed when the machine is on standby.

Here are some clues to identify your phantom energy users: They are appliances with remote controls, such as TVs, VCRs and audio equipment. Some of them feature a continuous digital display -- like those glowing clocks on stoves. Some of them feature rechargeable batteries, such as cordless phones (which use energy even after the battery is charged). And some are appliances with external power supplies, such as inkjet printers and iPod chargers.

To determine how much energy these devices are using in their off mode you can use a watt meter which plugs into an outlet then you plug the appliance into the watt meter. It tells you how much energy the appliance is using. A watt meter costs from $30-$50 at your local building supplies store.
How can you combat these vampires that use energy?

•Stop standby losses by using a power strip sold at hardware stores, home-supply stores, discount stores and the like. Step 1: Plug all components of a computer or home entertainment system into a power strip. Step 2: Turn off the power strip with a single switch. Anything plugged into the strip now is truly turned off.

•Unplug rarely used appliances, ditto for chargers that aren't in use. Unplug the TV, toaster oven and other well-used appliances before you leave on vacation (or more frequently). If it’s not plugged in, it can’t use energy.

•Buy energy-efficient appliances bearing the Energy Star label. That way, at least your appliances will use less energy. Find a list of products at EnergyStar.gov.
Tell others about this phenomenon known as phantom load. Chances are they’ve never heard of phantom loads!

• Watch out for all the transformers that plug into the wall, these are chargers and power supplies. These devices are 60-80% inefficient when plugged in, and on standby mode so it is especially important that you put them on power strips.

• Lead by example. If you start turning off your devices, maybe your roommates or family will too.

The standby power of a computer monitor only costs about $3 a year when the computer is shut down nights and weekends. However, if the computer's "sleep" function is used, the power costs $41 a year for those nights and weekends -- almost as much as the $57 a year it costs to run the computer just on weekdays.

Another electrical drain that is unnecessary is leaving outside lights and window candles on all night. It is pretty easy to put motion sensors or timers on these lights so they are only on when needed. Do the landscaping lights and window candles really need to be on all night?
Likewise; your Christmas light displays should all be on timers so that they turn off when no one is there to appreciate them.

(original air date 11/19/13)

Neil began his radio career as a student disc jockey at Muhlenberg college radio station WMUH in 1978. After earning a B.A. degree from the college, he spent the next 13 years in commercial radio and sound production at WSAN, Creative Sound studios and later at WAEB. In 1981, while attending Muhlenberg College, he and another community member joined together to form the first organized group of community radio volunteers in the Lehigh Valley. The group began incorporation meetings in 1984 and spent the next decade building support for a new community based station. WDIY 88.1 FM began broadcasting in 1995. Neil joined the staff in August of 1997 as Program Director and was promoted to Operations Director in February 2008.