Monday, October 12, 2009

You May Be Living With a Few Energy Thieves!

By Jim Northrop, GSWA Member

Electricity use by power-hungry household consumer electronic devices is rising fast. For example, the very popular, new flat-panel televisions have turned out to consume more electricity than some refrigerators. And then there are personal computers (how many do you already have in your house?). What about iPods, cell phones, game consoles and digital clocks? The New York Times reports that Americans now have as many as 25 consumer electronic products in each household, compared with just three in 1980.

Appliances like refrigerators are covered by mandatory efficiency rules specifying how much power each category of appliance may use. The New York Times claims that today's new refrigerators consume only about 55% of the power consumed when the standards took effect. Further, the Times says that a new clothes washer today is nearly 70% lower in energy consumption than a new unit in 1990. But, don't relax -- now we have a growing, off-setting challenge, which may eventually cancel out the energy savings of appliance standards. Makers of consumer electronic devices have been successful in resisting the application of such energy efficiency standards to their products.

Most Consumer Electronic Devices Never Sleep
One way this is a different kind of challenge, is that many modern consumer electronic devices cannot be entirely turned off. Even when not in use, they draw electricity while they wait for a signal from a remote control, or wait to record a television program.

Of course, a single-minded person can find many of these electronic devices around the house, and turn them off when not in use -- but, in most homes there are so many of them! And some family-member users are particularly difficult to "police." There are some ways to let the problem take care of itself, however, if one takes the time to set it up properly. For example, plug the computers and entertainment devices into "smart" power strips. The strips turn off when the electronics are not in use, cutting power consumption to zero.

Another difficulty in controlling power wasted by consumer electronics devices is that many products now require large amounts of power to run. Flat-screen TV is perhaps the biggest offender. As liquid crystal displays and plasma technologies replace the old cathode ray tubes, and as screen sizes increase, the new televisions need more power than older models did. How often is the TV left operating when the viewers have all left the room?

Until energy usage by consumer electronic devices is better regulated, each of us must be more vigilant. While energy waste per device may seem trivial, it adds up fast.