CBS Newsletter
Winter 1998
pg. 4

Reducing Leaking Electricity

Figure 1. Full and standby power draws of some compact audio systems.

A surprisingly large number of appliances-from computer peripherals to cable TV boxes to radios-consume electricity even after they have been switched off. Other appliances, such as cordless telephones, remote garage door openers, and battery chargers don't get switched off but draw power even when they are not performing their principal functions. The energy used while the appliance is switched off or not performing its primary purpose is called "standby consumption" or "leaking electricity." This consumption allows TVs, VCRs and garage-door openers to be ready for instant-on with a remote control, microwave ovens to display a digital clock, and fax machines to switch on when the telephone rings. An example of "leaks" from compact audio systems is shown in Figure 1; Figure 2 shows the increasing number of shipments of these systems.

Each appliance leaks anywhere from less than one to more than 20 watts, and a typical house draws about 50 watts from leaking appliances. For comparison, a new refrigerator consumes on average about 60 watts. Nationwide, leaking electricity requires the operation of eight large power plants that emit roughly 12 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere. These leaks are not confined to the U.S.. Japan, Europe, and the less-developed countries also have hundreds of millions of appliances with similar standby losses.

Figure 2. U.S. shipments of all makes of compact audio systems are on the rise.

Several strategies substantially reduce leaking electricity in appliances while still providing the services that consumers expect from them. They range from simply repositioning the off-switch to designing special chips that let small appliances manage and store power. We are proposing that standby losses be limited to one watt per appliance. The one-watt target can be achieved with little or no extra cost to manufacturers and will lead to modest cuts in consumers' utility bills, along with increased peace of mind that appliances are truly off or consuming the absolute minimum necessary amount of electricity. We are planning to collaborate with Europe, Japan, and less-developed countries so the energy savings and reductions in global emissions will be many times that from the U.S. alone.

Instead of relying on government regulation, we expect to use a combination of voluntary programs, special awards and labels, and other incentives to achieve our one-watt objective. One key form of recognition will be the Energy Star® label, from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency/Department of Energy program, to identify appliances that meet minimum energy-efficiency standards. Government purchasing specifications may be another path. In the end, however, the benefits to both manufacturers and consumers will be the strongest motivation. And the environment will be the biggest winner.

—Alan Meier, Karen H. Olson

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Alan Meier
Energy Analysis Program
(510) 486-4740; (510) 486-4673 fax

Visit the Leaking Electricity web site.

This work is supported by the Department of Energy's, Office of Building Technology, State and Community Programs.

Reference to any specific commercial product by its trade name or manufacturer does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the University of California or the U.S. Government.

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