Always-On Devices are Wasting Billions in Electricity

Environmental Protection magazine has reported that the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a report this month that found approximately $19 billion of electricity is used every year in the U.S. by devices and equipment when consumers are not actively using them. That amount of electricity is equal to the output of 50 power plants and costs each U.S. household anywhere from $165 – $440 per year, depending on utility rates.

The report, “Home Idle Load: Devices Wasting Huge Amounts of Electricity When Not in Active Use”, is the first large-scale study of idle load use. The study combined data from electric utility smart meters in 70,000 northern California residences with field measurements concentrating on idle loads. The field measurements included devices in off or standby mode that still consumed power, devices in sleep mode, and devices left fully on, but inactive.

“One reason for such high idle energy levels is that many previously purely mechanical devices have gone digital: Appliances like washers, dryers, and fridges now have displays, electronic controls, and increasingly even Internet connectivity, for example,” says Pierre Delforge, the report’s author and NRDC’s director of high-tech sector energy efficiency. “In many cases, they are using far more electricity than necessary.”

This electricity accounted for nearly 23% of the electricity consumption in the studied California homes. A quarter of these homes in the study were found to have a reduced idle load. The study reports that if all the households in the U.S. reduced their idle loads to these levels, $8 billion would be saved annually, which equates to 64 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and 44 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution, 4.6% of the total carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation in the U.S. residential sector.

The study includes a list of the 10 common devices and the annual cost in a worst-case “always-on” scenario. These devices, and costs, are water recirculation pump, up to $93; desktop computer, up to $49; TV, up to $38; cable set-top box, up to $30; audio receiver/stereo, up to $22; printer, up to $11; furnace, up to $8; coffee maker, up to $6; dryer, up to $4; and GFCI outlets, $1 each.

The NRDC has published directions and a downloadable form to help consumers estimate their idle loads in their own homes.

“Consumers can take such steps to reduce their idle load as using timers, smart power strips, and changing settings on their devices, and manufacturers need to do their part by designing products to minimize energy waste, but ultimately policies like energy efficiency utility programs and standards are needed,” Delforge notes. “Reducing always-on consumption is a low-hanging fruit opportunity to cut climate-warming pollution.”

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