Modern appliances are very convenient, but as John Dengate explained, they come with a hidden cost for both home owners and the environment. Twenty to thirty years ago appliances were either ‘on’ or ‘off’. Today, they can be ‘on’, ‘off’ or in ‘standby mode’. Standby power is the energy used by an appliance while plugged in but not performing its central function. It is a regular feature of many consumer products that are controlled remotely, or require power to maintain internal clocks or memory functions.
What is the problem?
Appliances in standby mode may appear to be switched off, but they are still using power. Some of these appliances use power even if you turn them off (which can be difficult because often they don’t have an ‘off’ switch and can only be turned off at the power point). In our segment John used a ‘spar meter’ to measure the average amount of power being consumed when common household appliances are in standby mode (see list below). Obviously, these amounts will vary depending on the brand, model and age of the appliance. For example TVs use from 40 to 150 W when operating, and 5.9 to 15 W in standby. (The model John tested used 98 W operating and 9 W in standby.) Appliance Standby mode Fax machine 8.2 W TV 5.9 – 15 W Washing machine 5.2 W Microwave 3.9 W Answering machine 3.3 W Cordless phone 2.7 W Battery-operated appliances 1.9 W Dustbuster 1.3 W (Note: ‘spar meters’ are not available commercially.)
According to Dr Tony Marker (Chairman of the National Appliance and Equipment Energy Efficiency Committee), as a general rule, 1 watt consumed in standby is approximately equal to $1 per year. Therefore, a single appliance using 8 watts of power in standby will add approximately $8 per year to your electricity bill. Standby power consumption accounts for up to 10% or more of Australia’s household electricity usage. This costs Australian households more than $500,000,000 and generates more than 5,000,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum. There is also an environmental cost. The generation of electricity to produce power for standby contributes to the production of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that adversely influences climate change and global warming. It’s no surprise that the 5 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1995.
Some appliances must never be turned off. They include alarms, smoke detectors, and fish tanks. Others are impractical to turn off because internal clocks and memory functions need to be reset when the appliance is turned back on. However, there are some simple steps you can take to reduce energy consumption and save money on your electricity bill. When purchasing new appliances, such as TVs, look for dedicated on-off switches. Depending on the product, energy may still be consumed in ‘off’ mode, but it will usually be less than that consumed if no ‘off’ function is available. Many appliances which are normally left on can easily be turned off when not in use and turned on when required. They include: Washing machines: new electronic models use power even when switched off. Switch them off at the power point when not in use, then just flick the switch when it’s time to do some washing. Televisions: often left in standby mode. Turn them off at the on-off switch before you go to bed. DVDs and stereo systems: quite often these are left in active standby mode, even though used only occasionally. Turn them off at the on-off switch or power point. Home office – fax, printer, scanner: these have a very high standby consumption. If using infrequently, turn them off at the power point. Electric kettles: these use significant standby energy. Turn the kettle off at the power point if you are not using it throughout the day. This also applies to other small kitchen appliances, such as breadmakers. Mobile phone chargers: often left plugged in and using electricity when not charging. Turn off when not in use. Appliances that hold their charge when not in use, including dustbusters, electric toothbrushes and cordless electric shavers: turn off the charger when it isn’t required and re-charge the item only when it is running low on power. Although it is impractical to turn off appliances that rely on internal clocks or memory functions, most of them can be turned off if you are going on holidays or leaving your home for extended periods of time. These include microwaves, VCRs, cordless home-phone chargers and even clock radios.Reduce standby energy consumption by using appliances endorsed with the ENERGY STAR® logo. ENERGY STAR® is an international standard developed by the US Environment Protection Authority for energy-efficient electrical equipment. It applies to standby power only, not energy used when equipment is operating. In Australia the program applies to office equipment (computers, printers, fax machines etc) and home entertainment equipment (TVs, VCRs, audio equipment and DVD players).