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Standby Isn’t the Best Option for Improving Your Energy Efficiency

written by: Emma Lloyd•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 9/30/2008

We all know that using standby mode on computers and other equipment helps save energy. But in this case, the solution might be worse than the problem—standby itself is extremely wasteful when the alternative is to switch the machine off. How can this issue be solved?

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    What's Wrong with Standby?

    Standby is usually what we have our equipment set to when we’re not using it. It’s easier than turning the copier, fax machine, or computer off, only to have to turn it back on next time it’s needed. We can feel good because we know standby uses less power. Right?

    Kinda. Standby does use less power, but it’s still hogging resources unnecessarily, and turning off the machine altogether still saves much more energy.

    More to the point, many of us use standby instead of switching machines off overnight or when we won’t use them for extended periods. Increasing numbers of computers and other pieces of equipment are left in standby mode permanently, so they’re constantly using power even though they might go for hours without being used.

    This is especially true when it comes to home appliances such as televisions and microwaves, as well as home computer equipment and IT equipment used at work. With an average of twenty electronic devices in the modern home, standby can add $100 or more to the annual electricity bill.

    On a national and global scale, the waste is staggering, even though it seems insignificant on an individual basis. An idle Nokia charger uses around 0.4W, compared to the 3-5W used when the device is charging. However, Nokia has estimated that two thirds of the energy used by mobile handsets is drawn by chargers which are plugged in but are not being used to charge the phone.

    To compound the issue, some electronic devices need to remain in standby mode to ensure they continue working. You can’t switch off your TiVo, for example, because it’s going to stop doing what you bought it to do (and you will probably incur the wrath of your colleagues if you go around switching off printers, copiers, and other equipment at work).

    So there are two problems here, the first being that standby mode has become standard, when turning equipment off should be the preferred option, and the second being that for some situations and some types of equipment, standby is necessary, rather than being a convenience.

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    Solving the Standby Problem

    The two main goals of the “standby movement” are therefore to reduce the amount of time equipment spends on standby, and also to simply improve energy efficiency of machines in standby mode.

    It’s already worked well in televisions—in a little over thirteen years, the industry has reduced the average power consumption of a TV in standby mode from 6W to just 2.6W. A modern TV in standby mode for an entire month still uses less power than it would take you to boil water for a cup of coffee.

    Now, the focus is on extending this principle to other electronic devices, as well as IT equipment, to improve the efficiency of standby mode across the board.

    Despite this, it’s still important to use the Off switch whenever you’re not going to use your equipment for an extended period of time. No matter how efficient standby mode is, turning the equipment off is always the preferred solution.