Archived Story

Liesl Eichler Clark: ‘Vampire power’ costs more than you think

Published 3:24pm Friday, September 4, 2009

If you are like me, you probably rushed out of your home this morning after a quick shower, cup of coffee and morning news or e-mail check to start a day filled with deadlines and appointments.

While your morning routine may not have much impact on your monthly energy bill’s bottom line – it’s the energy use in your home when you are away at work or even sleeping that may really be wasting your hard-earned dollars and cents.

Many consumers do not realize that a wide variety of household appliances and gadgets are using energy even when not in use.

This includes the home computer, alarm clock, television, game console, DVD player, cell phone battery charger, microwave oven and radio.

The energy these products use is called standby power, also known as “vampire power” or “leaking energy” and is responsible for 5 percent of total residential electricity consumption.

For this reason, it is important for consumers to be informed of how their actions affect our environment and their wallets.

In fact, 75 percent of the electricity used to power home appliances is used when the gadget is turned off.

Unfortunately for homeowners, standby power may cost 5 percent of electricity use now, but this percentage could rise to 20 percent by next year if nothing is done to prevent it.
A study done by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found the average American home is equipped with approximately 19 electronic appliances using standby power – all of which are constantly consuming energy and ultimately costing homeowners.

Not only are these appliances pricey, but according to the International Energy Agency, they are also responsible for 1 percent of global carbon dioxide emission.

Consumers are choosing to cut down on electricity bills and gas release by switching appliances to standby mode and putting computers to sleep.

But even for the most green-savvy folks, they may be surprised to discover the cost of leaving electronics on standby.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the family computer on sleep mode will cost approximately $34 per year.

For those purchasing a plasma television, it could have an annual charge of $160, while turned “off.”

Although these two appliances alone make the switch to energy-saving technology worth while, any item with an external power supply, a remote control or a clock display is constantly consuming energy and dollars coming out of homeowners’ pockets.

The U.S. Department of Energy warns consumers that standby power is estimated to cost us $3 billion a year.

The total cost adds up after a few years of saving and the inconvenience of turning all electronics off at night or when leaving the house will have advantages.

Although, the idea of this process being an inconvenience is very much a misconception, the intimidation can be omitted using the following steps that will help homeowners conveniently save money:

• Power strips group together neighboring electronics so that all energy transfers can be easily stopped with a single switch.

• “Energy Star”-rated products save money and emit fewer greenhouse gasses. These appliances meet strict energy efficiency criteria established by the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

• Unplug things such as a cell phone charger that is only in use for an hour or so a day.
• Purchase watt-detecting devices such as “Kill-a-Watt” or “Wattson.” These gadgets will make you aware of what appliances are costing you the most.

By becoming informed consumers, America can cut down on the use of energy and in doing so, they also cut the price they pay monetarily and environmentally.

Michigan is following Gov. Granholm down a green path.

Her plan to commit to renewable energy sources outside the home is an inspiration to bring this idea inside the home with energy-saving technology.

Granholm has created a “45 by ’20″ plan, for Michigan to pursue a 45-percent reduction in fossil fuel use for generating electricity by the year 2020.

Together we can save money and energy for Michigan’s future.

For more energy-saving tips, visit and click on “biomass.”

Liesl Eichler Clark is deputy director  of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth.

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