Get out the garlic

Holding energy vampires at bay

By Claire Marchand

Almost every household in the developed world has a host of products that constantly suck away at energy, even when they do not appear to be switched on. These so-called energy vampires are all around us.

smart devices - standby power Various studies carried out around the world have shown that standby power can account for anything from 5 to 10% of a household's power

The microwave or electric cooker with its little digital clock display. The cable set-top box and satellite decoder. The DVD player and TV. The audio system. All of these spend a lot of their day sitting there waiting for the command to ‘Go’ – and that waiting time could be when they are at their hungriest. Even those without any obvious signs of life can still be consuming power.

Standby – Studies show...

Various studies carried out around the world have shown that standby power can account for anything from 5 to 10 % of a household’s power.

The only certain way of reducing this is to turn off everything at the plug when you don’t need it – or for those countries without switched sockets, to pull out the plugs from the wall socket. The disadvantage, of course, is that it may mean that you then have to reset a load of digital clocks on devices. And there may be other knock-on effects for other electromechanical system elements of the product.

Of course ways of measuring this power do exist. Methods of measurement are specified in IEC 62301, Household electrical appliances - Measurement of standby power, the second edition of which has just been published and is now available from the IEC Webstore. The standard is applicable to all mains-powered household appliances as well as the mains-powered elements of devices that are powered by other fuels such as gas or oil.

Reducing standby power

There are also ways of reducing standby power – notably through using better designs of power supply, though these inevitably involve additional manufacturing costs. In September 2010, APP (the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate) and the Standby Annex of IEA 4E (the International Energy Agency Implementing Agreement for a Co-operating Programme on Efficiency Electrical End-Use Equipment) published a report on standby power and low-energy networks by Lloyd Harrington (Energy Efficient Strategies, Australia) and Bruce Nordman (consultant, United States).

Harrington is also Project Leader of MT (Maintenance Team) 9 within IEC TC (Technical Committee) 59: Performance of household and similar electrical appliances. MT9 is tasked with maintaining IEC 62301. The report states: “collectively, consumers pay the cost of high standby energy that arises from poor product design. There is no doubt that extremely low standby designs are readily available at a small marginal cost. However, these are not being universally adopted by suppliers due to the perception of low value added.”

The authors note: “Policy approaches to reduce excessive standby power are clearly warranted, but ... careful consideration is needed.” Various countries are now enforcing limits on standby power and in practice many have already implemented levels that are lower than the legal limit required by legislation.

A study by Kemco (the Korea Energy Management Company) presented in Australia during a 2004 energy rating plenary estimated that in order to reduce standby power to 1 W would add AUD 2-3 to the manufacturing cost of each product. [At today’s exchange rates, the AUD and USD are more-or-less on a par. At end January 2004, 3 AUD were worth roughly USD 2,30.] However, the study concluded, “it is possible to cut 75-90 % of standby power if manufacturers use new technologies”.

Standby power consumption of each product in the home is tiny – just a few watts – but most homes have more than 15 products capable of being put on standby. Standby already accounts for up to 25 % of domestic electricity use in certain areas of the world such as the US, Korea and Australia. Already then the Korean experts were saying “We still don’t know if standby energy use is growing or shrinking. Some appliances are more efficient but now there are more appliances with standby! A ‘networked home’ will be a high standby home if no measures are taken. We need to monitor homes & offices.”

A 2005 study estimated the number of standby appliances in the EU (European Union) at 3,7 billion. In the US (United States) according to a study by Berkeley Institute of Technology, standby power uses 64 million MW of power, the equivalent production of 18 power plants.

WG (Working Group) 9 of IEC TC 59 prepared IEC 62301, Household Electrical Appliances – Measurement of Standby Power. It provides the means to measure standby power consumption for a broad variety of household appliances, including measurement methodology and guidance with regard to reporting requirements and instrumentation.

WG 9 was formed in 1999 after the Kyoto Summit as a test method to counter wasted energy. The final International Standard was published in 2005. TC 59 SCs (Subcommittees) now always include standby power in their product standards and since then the publication has gained considerable reputation among manufacturers and regulators addressing the issue of energy waste.

Standby in Korea became mandatory in 2010. The current limit in the EU (European Union) is one watt for products on standby with only a reactivation function – ie equipment can be switched, whether remotely, by internal sensor or timer, to its main or additional function, but has no indication or display. This will reduce to 0,5W in 2012. In Germany standby power consumption was estimated at 22 billion kWh each year at a yearly cost of EUR 4 billion and the equivalent of 4 million tonnes of CO2. This energy saving measure will result in an economy of approximately 800 million KWh in Germany alone. One watt will also be the limit in Taiwan in 2012 and in Canada and Australia by 2013. A similar limit applies in Japan but is on a voluntary, not mandated, basis.

Although mandatory limits do not exist in the US, federal purchasing requirements set a standby power limit of 1W for a range of products. The Energy Star endorsement labelling program operated jointly by the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and DOE (Department of Energy) provides optimum specifications on a range of products, including some low-power modes. Some of its product specifications are used internationally. Most of those for low power are tending towards 1W.

Small is beautiful

Even if each device left on standby only consumes a minute amount of energy, that quantity multiplied by the number of devices in each home adds up to a sizeable figure in the overall world consumption. So, while it is not particularly obvious that power is literally leaking away when a device appears to be inactive, changing standby technology or switching a system off entirely can play a part in improving the world’s energy consumption and increasing energy efficiency.

The idea that ‘every little helps’ is certainly not a new one. British economist E F Schumacher published a collection of essays entitled “Small is beautiful” in 1973. The phrase was one coined by his teacher, Leopold Kohr, and it underpinned much of Schumacher’s forward-thinking philosophy.

smart devices - standby power Various studies carried out around the world have shown that standby power can account for anything from 5 to 10% of a household's power