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Blog Post Wednesday 14 June 2017

Vampire Power: How to Avoid a Scary Electricity Bill by Reducing Your Standby Power Consumption

Vampire Power: How to Avoid a Scary Electricity Bill by Reducing Your Standby Power Consumption

There’s nothing worse than receiving a scary energy bill. And when it arrives, you may run through in your head everything you did that month and not find anything that could account for how high your bill is - but did you take into account standby power?

Standby power - also known as ‘phantom load’ or, scarier still, ‘vampire power’ - is the energy that is used while your devices are turned off, but still plugged in. Thanks to improvements in product design, standby power use in Australia has reduced by 68% in the past decade. But despite this decrease, vampire power still accounts for a staggering 5.9% of Australia’s total residential electricity use. 

 

What is standby power costing you? 

According to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, Australians spend $860 million on standby power annually. To put that in perspective, that’s roughly $100 per household each year. Every household is different, and the amount you spend on vampire power will vary depending on the number and type of appliances left on standby, the appliance efficiency ratings and your electricity rate. But no matter which way you slice it, there’s a lot of money and energy being drained by phantom consumption. 

 

Why do appliances use electricity on standby?

Appliances which are turned off, yet still display the time or can be activated by remote control or internal timers, are typically in ‘passive standby’ mode when not in use. Ovens which display a digital clock or air conditioners with internal timers are common examples. Of course, the amount of electricity that the appliance requires is usually minor, just enough to power sensors that enable it to be switched back on. But not all appliances are so simple. As technology advances, appliances are using more and more sophisticated background functions which require greater use of phantom power. 

Gaming consoles routinely download content, run automatic Wi-Fi checks, and require complex standby sensors to enable them to be turned on by remote control or even voice activation. These devices are capable of consuming more than 5W of electricity hourly while in standby mode. Indeed, 60% of electricity consumption in Australian homes is due to home entertainment and computer appliances. 

Devices like microwaves or dishwashers are usually on ‘active standby’ - which occurs when the device is turned on but not in use. Other examples might be a DVD player that is switched on without playing a disc. Shockingly, devices in active standby mode cost you five to ten times more in electricity than those in passive standby mode. A gaming console on active standby uses an average of 5.4W of power per hour, clocking an extra 0.15 cents of electricity every 60 minutes. Forgetting to turn off your gaming consoles and DVD players at the power socket when you go on holiday could be a costly mistake. 

 

Which appliances use the most standby power?

So who are the main vampire power culprits to watch out for? Top of the list for standby consumption are: 

  • Gaming consoles;
  • Washing machines; 
  • and dishwashers. 

You might be surprised to know that DVD players and televisions consume relatively small amounts of phantom power, with standby costs being typically around the $5 mark for an entire year. That being said, in a world where households rarely have only one screen, this wasted energy use can add up quickly. 

Your wireless modem is also a nasty user of phantom power. But seeing as it’s technically ‘in use’ all the time, it may not be the most practical device to shut off every day. If you are looking to cut costs, consider turning off your modem when you head to work in the morning, and definitely if you go away on holiday. 

 

How to reduce standby energy costs

You might not feel the pinch of standby electricity immediately - a few dollars here and there can easily go unnoticed. But when those costs are compounded, year after year, multiplied by millions of Australians - there’s a lot of money and energy going to waste. When you factor in the environmental impact too, there are plenty of reasons to get motivated to take these simple steps to reduce your standby energy costs. 

  1. Turn appliances off at the wall. This is the best way to guarantee that your bill isn’t being blown out of proportion by standby power. Look for devices that don’t need to be left on overnight, such as microwaves and DVD players, and get into the habit of turning them off at the wall before you hit the hay. 
  2. Monitor your device usage. Start thinking critically about what appliances you do and don’t use and always be on the lookout to turn appliances off. Are there areas of the house you don’t use often, such as a pool house, basement or guest room? Be realistic about your device usage and consider different areas where you could rein in your energy use. 
  3. Install LED lights. LED lights are 4-7 times more efficient than typical bulbs. Lights that use less power will naturally use less standby power and be kinder on the environment and your budget. Make sure to turn lights off when not in use. 
  4. Mind your washing. Washing machines are one of the biggest ‘suckers’ of vampire power. Make sure you switch the machine off after use to avoid being charged for unused power throughout the day.
  5. Update your electrical boards. Some modern electricity boards can sense when your appliance has entered standby mode and will cut its electricity feed entirely. Not only will ensuring your electrical system is updated save you money, but it’s an important safety precaution for you and your family. 
  6. Purchase energy efficient models. The energy efficiency star ratings system not only  indicates electricity usage running costs, but also gives guidance on standby running costs. The more energy efficient an appliance is, the less electricity it will use on standby, the less money it will cost you to run. 
  7. Change your standby settings. Many new gaming consoles and smart TVs allow you to modify settings to reduce standby functionality. This may mean the device takes a few seconds longer to start up when you turn it on, but that’s a small price to pay when you consider the positive impact it will have on your budget and the environment. 

 

Banishing standby power ‘vampires’

With these simple steps to reduce standby power consumption, banishing the ‘vampires’ and ‘phantoms’ lurking in your household appliances is not so scary after all. Addressing your use of standby power can have a noticeable impact on your energy usage over time, reducing the scare-factor when you open that winter electricity bill.