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Don’t Stand Idly By: Saving Energy with Smart Power Strips

Not your grandmother's power strip

Smart Power Strip image courtesy of www.beld.com

If you are looking for an inexpensive and simple way to reduce your electricity consumption at home, look no further than the little red LED lights that signify that the appliance or equipment is on standby mode.

Even though the device is in the “off” or “standby” mode, it is still consuming power. This power consumption is commonly referred to as phantom energy or vampire loads; it supplies the little black boxes that convert AC to DC power, it is used to power circuits and sensors needed to receive a remote signal, and internal clocks and displays. Almost any product with an external power supply (little black boxes) will draw some power on a continuous basis, as long as the devices are plugged into a standard receptacle.

Most studies on standby power have concluded that it accounts for between 5-10% of residential electricity use in most developed countries, and approximately 1% of global CO2 emissions.

Not surprisingly, standby power use is rising with the introduction of an increasing variety of electronic devices that need to be plugged in and charged, as well as the rapid rise of the middle class in the developing world. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory measured the standby power consumed by hundreds of products and compiled a chart to illustrate how much power the most common electronic equipment in our homes consumes without even being turned on.

Any single device does not consume a lot of power, but just count how many of these devices you have in your home or apartment. I counted more than 15 devices in my small apartment alone! The point is: all of these devices are conspiring to increase your electric consumption, which costs you more money and burns more fossil fuels in order to have that extra power ready at all times.

This is a lose-lose situation, but there are simple ways to reduce your standby load:

• Unplug devices that are not used frequently. When was the last time you watched a VHS tape? Do you really need to read the time from three different LED clocks that are literally right on top of each other?

• Buy ENERGY STAR products. As a general rule, ENERGY STAR products have lower standby consumption.

• Buy a Smart Power Strip.

Smart Power Strips look very similar to the surge protectors and power strips that you probably already use for plugging in your electronics. But Smart Strips have two basic components: electrical outlets and circuitry that monitors and controls the outlets. The most basic strips will detect when an item goes into standby mode and immediately cut the power to that piece of equipment, effectively reducing the standby load to zero. Most Smart Strips also have several always-on outlets, so that equipment such as your cable box, which needs to reboot after a loss of power, can always remain on. More sophisticated strips are color-coded and will allow you to plug your TV into one switch and then plug all the peripheral equipment, such as your DVD player, into several associated switches. When you turn off the TV, all of the peripheral equipment will automatically be shut off by the Smart Strip, thus removing the standby load.

More technologically advanced power strips come with all kinds of power-saving features, including motion detectors. These motion detectors will cut off the power to the majority of the outlets on the power strip after it does not detect anyone in the room—anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. All of these strips have at least two outlets that are always active, so you don’t have to worry about constantly rebooting your cable box or other equipment. Smart Strips come in all sizes with many different options, and installing them in your home is an inexpensive and simple way to reduce your standby load.

But remember: you don’t necessarily need a Smart Strip to reduce your standby load. All you need is to remember to unplug devices when you aren’t using them or flip the master switch on your regular power strips.

Small steps add up to big changes!

For more information about Smart Power Strips, follow this link to Braintree Electric Light Department.

Adin works in CEC's Technical Services department on large multifamily buildings as an Energy Auditor and Analyst.

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