As a web worker, you’re likely loaded up with gadgets of all sorts. There seems to be a pretty good correlation between those of us who work on the web and those of us who accumulate things that beep, buzz, light up, transmit, and receive. But this also means that our homes are filled with consumers of vampire power – or, if you prefer a less seasonal and more neutral term, standby power.
Simply speaking, standby power is all the electricity used by things when you’re not actively using them. Take a walk through your house at dusk and look at all the digital time and temperature and channel displays, all the pretty LED lights, all the remote controls listening for your commands, all the wall chargers humming away, all the instant-on appliances: those are all standby power users. Depending on who you believe, they’re responsible for somewhere between 3% and 20% of your electricity bill (and a corresponding percentage of your contribution to global warming, strip-mining, and other energy consumption-related ills).
Figuring out how much standby power is used by a particular piece of electronics isn’t especially easy. As the issue has become slowly important over the past few years, most standby power loads are now less than a watt, and you need a fairly sensitive power meter to measure that accurately (you may be able to borrow one from your electric company as part of their conservation program). The alternative is to shut down everything else in the house (fridge, air conditioning, lights…) and let your electric meter do the measuring. The latter technique will give you an overall number for standby power use in your house, without pointing the finger at particular culprits.
After you know how much you’re spending on standby power, you can decide whether – and how – to take action. Unfortunately, your choices these days are not all that great. The simplest and most effective way to eliminate a standby load is to just unplug the offending appliance from the wall (or shut it off with a power switch). But this has a variety of consequences: digital clock displays that eternally blink 12:00, remote controls that don’t work until you walk across the room to plug things in first, TVs that need to warm up before they display a picture.
If your commitment to eliminating the power vampires isn’t that hardcore, you can take some interim steps. Unplug the appliances that don’t have clock displays when you’re not using them. Replace old appliances with newer models – more efficient power supplies in the last several years have lowered standby power consumption considerably. Unplug portable device chargers when they’re done with their charging. Of course, the most radical suggestion is to re-evaluate how many electronic gadgets and gizmos you really need – but that can be tough for the mobile professional to do.