The Visual Display of Vampire Information

Submitted by Charles Frost on Sat, 12/15/2007 - 15:37.

The Visual Display of Vampire Information

by Lloyd Alter, Toronto on 12.15.07

Call it what you will: phantom load, idle current, vampire power, wall wart; they're all euphemisms for the way devices use and waste electricity when they aren't even on, and they're everywhere. Here are some ways to save some bucks and carbon emissions and gain some peace of mind by eliminating unnecessary power use in your home.
1) Devices like the Kill-a-Watt and Wattson can point you to devices that attract the largest load, leading you to get...
2) A "smart" power strip like the Wattstopper Plug Load Control and Smart Strip Power Strip, that cut the power when your devices are off.
3) The Mini Power Minder has the smarts to shut off your computer’s peripherals and doodads when the computer itself is shut down.
4) Simply unplugging things like your cell phone charger, which is only in use a few minutes per day, will make a bigger difference than you'd think.
5) See How to Green Your Electricity to learn more about keeping phantoms, vampires and warts out of your electrical life.



The graphic is from:



That Giant Sucking Sound May Be Your New TV

Flat-Panel Displays Devour Power, Even Before Add-Ons;
Energy Star Blurs the Picture


December 13, 2007; Page D1


Prices for big-screen television sets are dropping, but the cost of home entertainment may still be headed up. That is because the fancy screens shoppers are lugging home this holiday season consume far more electricity than their old-school predecessors.


Consider that a 42-inch plasma set can consume more electricity than a full-size refrigerator -- even when that TV is used only a few hours a day. Powering a fancy TV and full-on entertainment system -- with set-top boxes, game consoles, speakers, DVDs and digital video recorders -- can add nearly $200 to a family's annual energy bill.


Most consumers aren't made aware of extra energy expenses when they are shopping for a TV. Energy Star tags, a government program that identifies the most energy-efficient models, won't begin flagging the greenest televisions, when turned on, until late next year. Currently, Energy Star judges energy consumption only in standby mode, limiting its usefulness.


While most new types of TV sets use far more electricity than the old-fashioned gadgets they replace, some upstarts are bigger energy hogs than others. In general, liquid crystal display, or LCD, screens use less power than plasma sets of comparable size. And in the largest screen sizes, projection televisions typically use less electricity than LCD or plasma models.


A 28-inch conventional television set containing a cathode-ray picture tube, or CRT, for example, often uses about 100 watts of electricity. A 42-inch LCD set, a typical upgrade item, requires about twice that amount of electricity. But the real beast is the plasma set. A 42-inch model often sucks up 200 to 500 watts, and a 60-plus-inch plasma screen can consume 500 to 600 watts, depending on the model and programming, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.


In the biggest screen sizes, a projection television is a better option from an energy-use standpoint because it consumes about 150 watts to 200 watts, far less than a plasma or LCD screen.


Assuming each screen is on five hours a day, the annual energy bill for the conventional 28-inch television set would be about $30 a year, compared with about $130 for the 60-inch plasma model, assuming power costs 12 cents a kilowatt hour. By the time other devices are added -- including game consoles, speakers and DVDs -- the cost to power the whole works can top $200 annually. (How to do the math: Something that draws a constant 100 watts of electricity uses 2.4 kilowatt hours of electricity in a 24-hour period or 876 kilowatt hours in a year. At 12 cents a kilowatt hour, the annual cost would be $105.12.)


"What scares us is the prices for plasma sets are dropping so fast that people are saying, why get a 42-inch plasma set when you can get a 60-inch or 64-inch one," says Tom Reddoch, director of energy efficiency for the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute's laboratory in Knoxville, Tenn., an independent organization that advises the utility sector. "They have no idea how much electricity these things consume."


Doug Johnson, senior director of technology policy for the Consumer Electronics Association, says the industry is working to improve disclosure and energy efficiency. He says comparing television energy use to refrigerator energy use is "hackneyed," adding, "when was the last time the family gathered around the refrigerator to be entertained."


But consumers making an effort to go greener at home -- and who also want to ditch their bulky old TV set -- can be in a bit of a bind. The energy savings gleaned from swapping out incandescent light bulbs for energy-efficient compact fluorescent lights, for example, can easily be canceled out by the pileup in entertainment gear.


Currently, 11% to 13% of the average American household's electricity bill stems from consumer electronics. But that is projected to rise to 18% by 2015, according to the EPA, part of the Department of Energy.


At a Western Appliance & Television store in
San Leandro, Calif., salesman Mike Lemos says customers often seek energy-saving appliances but seem less focused on electricity use when it comes to entertainment gear. "Televisions are a more emotional purchase," he says. "You look at a high-definition TV, and it's hard not to get excited."


Just inside the entrance of a nearby Costco store, retiree Pat Brown paused to look at a riveting display of plasma and LCD screens stacked up, billboard-style, to seize the attention of shoppers. Many stopped dead in their tracks to take in the noisy display. Ms. Brown, who lives in nearby
Oakland, said she always looks for the blue Energy Star tag when buying appliances, but she was unaware that Energy Star, for now, doesn't cover sets when they are turned on.


"I'm retired, so my TV is on pretty much all the time," she said. "I definitely would want better information before buying one of these, especially if there's a lot of difference between them."


Set-top boxes, which deliver programs and movies through the Internet, cable or satellite dishes, also can be energy hogs. In fact, they typically consume about the same amount of power whether they are being used or standing by. An older-style box that functions as a standard receiver for cable-TV viewing usually draws fewer than 25 watts of power, but a more robust version that offers high-definition viewing and includes a built-in recorder may consume three times as many. According to a calculation by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a typical high-definition cable box with a built-in digital recorder consumes about 350 kilowatt hours of juice annually, more than a conventional television set and clothes washer combined.


It can be tough for shoppers to know how much energy a TV set will consume. While the EPA's Energy Star program covers TV sets only in standby mode, the Federal Trade Commission's "Energy Guide" labeling, which tells how much electricity an appliance consumes and estimates the annual energy cost, isn't used on TV sets.


The FTC says "it has not made a determination it will label TVs," says Hampton Newsome, an FTC staff attorney in the Bureau of Consumer Protection and Enforcement. In the past, the agency didn't think there was enough difference between television sets to warrant Energy Guide labeling. Now the FTC is in a holding pattern waiting for the EPA to finish work establishing the proper test methods for comparing sets when turned on. This isn't as straightforward as it sounds, because energy use differs according to the complexity of programming content.


For its part, the EPA appears to have settled on a process that will allow consumers to compare sets of the same size, across technology types. The agency expects to have improved Energy Star labels on television screens by November 2008 and to get them on set-top boxes, also in active and standby modes, by December 2008.


Write to Rebecca Smith at rebecca [dot] smith [at] wsj [dot] com


Wow! Even what you are not doing really uses energy.

Glad I don't have some of those items that really suck! Do they make energy star TVs? They should make TVs and game boxes that are powered by a treadmill or bicycle, even if only partially. Maybe someone does? The chart really gives you an incentive to take the time to unplug appliance you are not using.

Smart strip

Bill--Have you tried the smart strip?  At $35.00, it sounds like the best deal.  Is it bad to completely turn off and unplug your computer and fax/printer, when not in use?  I will check with my techno-wizard uncle.  

Why are we basically allowing the migration to plasma HDTVs, given the huge energy drain this will cause us in 2009?  The choice for me will be easy--no TV.  But, this is going to be a huge recycling and energy nightmare.  Am I wrong?

A Simple Plug In Strip

A simple plug in strip can work as`well, for as little as $5.00. There is no reason to leave your computer on, that is unless you are expecting an urgent e-mail.

There are also small single outlet switches, that are usually available this time of year, for use with window decorations. I use a number of both types.

You can better spend that $35.00 (or less) on an electric meter/tool called a Kill-A-Watt that you can use to measure the phantom/vampire electrical loads in your home.

Based on the information that you can get from using that tool, you can make appropriate decisions about what you want to have plugged in.

A rule of thumb that I use, (which involves some math) is that each watt of power that is used (at 11 cents/kilowatt hour) costs you roughly one dollar per year, if plugged in 24/7. an 8 watt phantom/vampire load will cost you $8.00 per year,

...and a 100 watt incandescent bulb,for example, would cost you $100/year.


The Math: 100 watts X 24 hours X 365 days = 876,000 watt hours.

          divide 876,000 by 1000 (to convert to kilowatthours)

          X $0.11 per kilowatt hour = $96.36 per year


So, a 100 watt incandescent porch light left on all night, 365 days would cost you half that amount or about $50.00.

By the same token, a ($5.00)  26 watt compact fluorescent light in the same porch light fixture would only cost you about 1/4 that amount ($12.50) - saving you $37.50 in the first year.

That means that you get the $5.00 that you spent on the CFL back in electric savings in the first two months of use - a very nice "return on your investment".

...but watch those phantom/vampires... 8 watts here, 12 watts there, 25 watts over there... they add up, and they cost you every year!!!

Hope this helped.