Research conducted by the Australian and New Zealand governments in 2010 estimated that about 10% of most household electricity bills are comprised of standby power use, or vampire power. This costs Australians around $1.1billion and adds almost 5.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. So what is this mythical beast that’s sucking your wallet, and what can you do to stop it?
What is vampire power?
A vampire feeds at night on unsuspecting victims, and standby power is doing much the same thing, except this electricity wastage doesn’t disappear when the sun comes up. While appliances like fridges and freezers must be running all the time, other appliances draw power even when they appear to be switched off.
This means that all the time appliances can be drawing electricity and clocking up kilowatts, which means they are adding to your power bills. From the microwave clock to the light on the Xbox, if the appliance isn’t considered to be useful work, but it’s still drawing a current, vampire power is sucking at your wallet.
How does it work?
Many appliances have a standby mode that makes it easier to switch them on and off without getting behind them to the wall socket. Remote controlled appliances like TVs, stereos, and even game consoles are the most obvious culprits, but it’s also good to be aware of all items that could be drawing a current when not in use.
All over the house appliances are drawing a current while the power point switch is on, even if they don’t appear to be. Anything with an active display, such as a clock, is using electricity while the display is on, while standby power lights can be found on all sorts of electrical goods.
Even when nothing is obvious, some machines need to be on to receive remote signals to make them operational, and they also draw some electricity all the time they are switched on at the wall.
What does it really cost?
The Equipment Energy Efficiency survey found that the average homes vampire power usage equated to 81.8 Watts, or 717kWh per year. This can add $136 to the household electricity bill per year (at 19c/kWh).
The simplest way to figure out how much electricity an appliance uses is to check the wattage on the documentation it came with. Of course these are ideal figures, and may not represent actual usage in real situations.
Using a meter to directly measure electricity consumption by individual appliances is another way to measure usage in both active and standby modes for each appliance. It may take some time to plug each device into the meter, but it will give the most accurate measure of electrical use in the home.
Some local councils will lend out electrical meters through public libraries. If not, here is a round-up of common appliances and how much they could be costing per day.
- Split cycle air conditioning: 2.3W | 10c per day
- Front loading washing machine: 0.7W | 0.003c per day
- Dishwasher: 0.5W | 0.002c per day
- Plasma TV: 4W | 18c per day
- LED/LCD TV: 3.1W | 0.01c per day
- Water heater: 1W | 0.005c per day
- Games console: 1.7W | 0.008c per day
- Desktop computer: 3.5W | 0.016c per day
Just the cost of these 8 common appliances could cost $36.66 per year if always left on standby.
*calculated based on the appliances most commonly used standby mode, in use 24 hours a day at a rate of 19c per kWh
The main offenders in the home
The big offenders in standby power use are often entertainment equipment, such as TVs, stereos and home theatres. Additionally, IT gear like desktop computers and peripherals can use quite a lot of power, whereas devices with batteries are likely to be left plugged in and on standby.
Switching appliances off at the wall is easier if they are all running from the same power board, and remote controls for this purpose are even on the market.
For some equipment, it may be worth setting them on a timer so they are switched off during periods when they are never used, such as overnight, or during work days. The reverse can apply for office equipment that doesn’t get used outside business hours.
Killing off vampire power
Killing off vampire power has benefits for the household budget and for the environment. While appliance manufacturers can do their part in reducing the standby electrical load devices draw, switching things off at the wall makes doubly sure you are not wasting power and money unnecessarily.