We all know that computers use energy when switched on (How Much Electricity Does a Computer Use?) but did you know that your computer and other electronic equipment may be using energy even when switched off or in stand-by mode? The phenomenon is known by a number of names including idle current, phantom load, vampire energy and idle current. ENERGY STAR say, "Even when turned off, electronic and IT equipment often use a small amount of electricity. For home office equipment, this standby or 'phantom' power load can range from a few watts to as much as 20 or even 40 watts for each piece of equipment."
According to SaskPower, the principal supplier of electricity in Saskatchewan, Canada, "In the average home, 40% of all electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while the products are turned off. This is equal to about 10% of total home electricity consumption or about 70 watts per home. In Canada, two coal-fired power plants could be decommissioned if phantom power was eliminated." So, we're not talking about an inconsiderable amount of electricity. But what's using the energy? Basically, anything that doesn't completely switch off when in not in use. That could include computers, cell phone chargers and other chargers (including laptop chargers), computer monitors, printers, TVs, cable boxes, electric toothbrushes and devices with clocks such as microwaves. There are a number of things that you can do to combat phatom energy. The easiest option is to simply unplug the items from the wall (do you really need your printer to be on standby 24/7?). To make the job speedier, you can connect multiple devices to a power strip and then simply unplug that. When replacing devices, look for products that have earned the ENERGY STAR rating. These will use less energy during both normal operation and when in stand-by (but still switch them off whenever practical - they'll still use some energy). Finally, a number of companies are starting to release products which do not use energy when in stand-by. For example, Fujitsu Siemens new range of SCENICVIEW monitors use zero watts when not in use.
Phantom energy consumption adds up. By taking the time to unplug things and shopping wisely, you can knock a considerable amount of your electricity bill - and that's something we all need to do in these recessionary times - and help the environment.