Vampires sucking electricity from homes

The Associated Press
Monday October 23, 2000

SAN FRANCISCO — Researchers say they’ve discovered what’s draining 10 percent of the electricity in homes in the San Francisco Bay Area and around the world. 


Also called power supplies, vampires are the chunky, two-pronged plugs that power everything from refrigerators to cellular phone chargers.  

But long after household appliances such as stereos, computers and bread machines are turned off, vampires continue draining standby power from the electrical grid – at an average cost of $80 a year per household. 

“You know they are working when you’ve turned off your appliance and you touch that vampire and it’s still warm,” said Alan Meier, a researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 

A recent study by Meier and J.P. Ross of the University of California, Berkeley, found that standby power represents 67 watts, or 10 percent, of an average Bay Area home’s electricity use per year.  

With power rates expected to rise, every extra watt adds up, Meier said. 

Standby power use has become an international concern as more household appliances and electronics add features such as clocks and computerized displays that require a continual flow of power. 

Studies in Japan, Germany and the Netherlands have also found standby power accounts for as much as 10 percent of national residential electricity use.  

The quickest solution is unplugging the vampires, though Meier calls that unrealistic.  

He said the best solution is to convince manufacturers to use newer, energy efficient vampires for their products.  

The state recently gave the California Energy Commission $50 million to launch a campaign to cut power use by next June. 

State energy commission director Arthur Rosenfeld said under one proposal manufacturers would get a 50 cent rebate for each energy efficient vampire sold over the next year.  

The commission also proposes to provide funding for cities and other groups to install energy-efficient appliances and equipment. 

A growing number of portable devices charged by vampires, such as handheld computers, cellular phones and laptops makes cutting back on standby power imperative, says Craig Hershberg, manager of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy’s Energy Star program.  

At the federal level, the Energy Star program has given recognition to energy efficient products since 1992. 

Such programs have driven companies, such as Sunnyvale’s Power Integrations, Inc., a maker of power supplies, to incorporate energy efficiency into their product design, said Mike Matthews, director of strategic marketing. 

Their power supply design replaces traditional weighty iron and copper transformers with silicon chips and electronic components.  

This makes the power supply lighter, more energy efficient, and compatible with voltage around the world, Matthews said. 

Palo Alto’s Sun Microsystems, Inc., a network computing services provider, won an award this year from Energy Star for producing energy efficient products and workspaces. 

And Mountain View’s Cobalt Networks, Inc., also a computer networking services company, produces a server that uses only 30 watts of electricity, generates less heat and requires less work from cooling systems. 

Refrigerators, laptop computer chargers and set-top boxes for cable or satellite television are among the hungriest standby power appliances, the study said. 

Some appliances use more power in standby mode than when they are in use: A 1999 New Zealand study revealed that more than 40 percent of microwave ovens consumed more electricity in the standby mode than when heating food. 

On the Net: 

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy’s Energy Star program: http://www.energystar.gov 

Lawrence Livermore Laboratory Web site about Leaking energy sources: http://eetd.lbl.gov/standby 

California Energy Commission: http://www.energy.ca.gov 

Power Integrations, Inc.: http://www.powerint.com 

Cobalt Networks, Inc.: http://www.cobalt.com 

Sun Microsystems, Inc.: http://www.sun.com