In-active Devices Waste
But Billions of Dollars and Kilowatt-Hours Can Be Saved
SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- Approximately $19 billion worth of electricity, equal to the output of 50 large power plants, is devoured annually by U.S. household electronics, appliances, and other equipment when consumers are not actively using them, according to a groundbreaking study released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The report, "Home Idle Load: Devices Wasting Huge Amounts of Electricity When Not in Active Use," found most of the devices either plugged in or hard-wired into America's homes consume electricity around-the-clock, even when the owners are not using them or think they are turned off. The annual cost for this vampire energy drain, which provides little benefit to consumers, ranges from $165 per U.S. household on average to as high as $440 under some utilities' top-tier rates.
"One reason for such high idle energy levels is that many previously purely mechanical devices have gone digital: Appliances like washers, dryers, and fridges now have displays, electronic controls, and increasingly even Internet connectivity, for example," says Pierre Delforge, the report's author and NRDC's director of high-tech sector energy efficiency. "In many cases, they are using far more electricity than necessary."
These always-on but inactive devices account for nearly 23 percent, on average, of the electricity consumption of homes in California -- where electricity usage tends to be lower overall due in part to decades of energy efficiency success -- but the share will vary in other states, depending on total electricity use. However, the amount of inactive consumption by household devices can be applied nationally as Americans tend to buy the same appliances everywhere.
The NRDC study is the first large-scale analysis of idle load use, combining usage data from electric utility smart meters in 70,000 northern California residences with field measurements concentrating on idle loads (an average of 65 devices were found in NRDC's onsite audit). Idle consumption includes devices in off or "standby" mode but still drawing power (such as furnaces and garage door openers); in "sleep mode" ready to power up quickly (like game consoles); and left fully on but inactive (computers).
"Consumers can take such steps to reduce their idle load as using timers, smart power strips, and changing settings on their devices, and manufacturers need to do their part by designing products to minimize energy waste, but ultimately policies like energy efficiency utility programs and standards are needed," Delforge notes. "Reducing always-on consumption is a low-hanging fruit opportunity to cut climate-warming pollution."
In fact, if all households in the United States reduced their idle load to the level that a quarter of the homes in NRDC's study already achieve, they would save $8 billion on their annual utility bills; avoid 64 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity use per year; and prevent 44 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution, or 4.6 percent of U.S. residential sector carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation.
Other key findings:
Along with providing an Action Guide, NRDC has posted directions and a downloadable form to enable consumers to estimate the idle electricity consumption in their homes at www.nrdc.org/energy/files/home-idle-load-action-guide.pdf. Delforge's blog can be found at switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/pdelforge/always-on_devices_may_cost_ame.html. The study is available at www.nrdc.org/energy/home-idle-load.asp.
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