AT&T Launches Smart Charger to Fight Vampire Power, Finally

Updated: Finally a reason not to complain about AT&T. The phone company says it will start selling a smart charger in May — dubbed the AT&T ZERO charger and made by Super Communications — that eliminates vampire power (wasted standby power). The concept is so simple that only phone companies wouldn’t naturally design this into all chargers: the charger can automatically detect when the phone is plugged in and when its not, and can cut the power connection from the wall when the cell phone is unplugged. The good news is that it costs the same ($29.99) as a standard charger.

Smart chargers are becoming more widely used in Europe, but as Kevin Tofel, editor of JKontheRun (GigaOM’s mobile site) put it to me, most phone chargers in the U.S. are not smart. That’s expected to change over the coming years. According to The Smart2020 report from The Climate Group, the carbon footprint per cell phone (not including the network) is expected “to decrease over the 2020 timeframe because “smart chargers” are rapidly becoming commonplace.”

So overall the carbon footprint of the world’s cell phones will only increase by 4 percent despite the massive growth in the cell phone market — from 1.1 billion cell phone accounts in 2002 to 4.8 billion cell phone accounts by 2020 — because of the gains in smart chargers, says The Climate Group. The majority of the carbon emissions from cell phones (just the devices, not the attached network) come from vampire power.

Vampire power doesn’t just come from cell phone, but from a variety of appliances and electronics in homes — including computers, DVD players, and microwaves — and in total can eat up a significant portion of a home’s electricity bill. Power vampires are estimated to consume anywhere from 7 percent to a whopping 40 percent of a home’s household electricity. Yikes.

What I’d really like to see from the U.S. phone companies (which the European ones are also leading on) is more progress on moving to one standard phone charger for all makes and all models, with this type of smart charging tech built in. Constantly buying new cell phone chargers is a significant source of waste. I’m also still waiting to hear back from AT&T on what manufacturers and phone models will be compatible with their new ZERO charger (since it’s a new product, my guess is not many for its release). Update: AT&T says that the charger will be compatible for “its most popular models.”

Other consumer electronics companies and startups are trying to develop other alternative ways to cut vampire power. Visible Energy has created smart plugs and smart strips to eliminate wasted power and Green Plug envisions its smart adapter technology embedded everywhere.

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