Phantom Energy: Trashing your money (and the planet)

Christopher Valdivia
23 January 2012

Above: Image © Silverxxx, Wikimedia Commons

If you turn off all the lights in your house late at night, you can probably still find your way by the dim glow of your electronics. Even if you turn your electronics “off”, are they really off?

Did you know? Most household electronic gadgets draw power even when you think they are off, such as TVs, computers, cell phones and chargers.

This constant “sucking”of power has earned the nickname of “vampire energy”.

Your Blu-ray player or microwave probably still show the time (or flash 00:00) and a rainbow of tiny lights persistently shines from most other items, sucking up what’s called “phantom energy”. This ghost-like power drain manifests not only in lights you can see, but internally wastes power on things like waiting for your command from the remote control.

Measuring the devices in my own house, I found that my largest offenders were my stereo (14 watts), DVD player (up to 15 watts), and digital TV cable box (16 watts). If these devices are simply plugged into the wall and left in the 'off' state, a constant drain of 45 watts results – a little less than the energy required to light a typical light bulb. But, multiply that by the 8,760 hours in a year, and you get a cost of $20 to $40 just to sit there doing nothing useful.

Did you know? A watt is a standard measure of a unit of power, which is a rate of use of energy.

Now imagine on a national level where phantom energy wastes away five to 10 percent of all our electricity. Canada-wide, that amounts to the equivalent of a 1.6 GW power plant (approximately) running constantly 24 hours per day, all year long. At this scale, eliminating phantom power altogether could eliminate the need for the Nanticoke coal power generating station, Canada’s largest single source of air pollution! Located near Toronto,this power station affects the most densely populated area in all of Canada.

Did you know? Coal-fired power plants are considered amongst the worst polluters of any power generation method. The Ontario government has created incentives for renewable power generation to reduce or eliminate the province’s dependence upon coal for electricity.

There are ways we can help reduce our wasted energy:

  • Plug devices into a power bar with a master switch so multiple devices can be disconnected all at once (like your TV, cable box, and sound system).
  • Some homes have an 'all-off' switch which controls all non-essential plugs from a single point, so those unnecessary devices can be switched off when you leave the house or go to bed.
  • Look for high energy efficiency ratings and do some research before you buy that new must-have gadget.
  • If in doubt, you can always just unplug it from the wall when not in use!

So with a little determination, energy loss can be prevented for a cleaner and cheaper future.

Learn more!

Ontario Power Generation: Nanticoke Generating Station

Natural Resources Canada: Energy Use in Canada

Inspiration Ecohome

Ontario Power Authority: Renewable Energy Feed-in tariff program

Article first published on July 25, 2010.

Christopher Valdivia

My current position is Engineering Specialist, R&D, at Cyrium Technologies Inc. in Ottawa. Cyrium focuses on research, development, and manufacturing of high-efficiency quantum-dot-enhanced III-V multi-junction solar cells. My previous position was as a postdoctoral fellow in the SUNLab at the University of Ottawa's Centre for Research in Photonics, researching high-efficiency solar cells and systems. With computer and electrical engineering backgrounds, I completed my master degree at the University of Toronto and doctoral degree in the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton (UK), both in the area of photonics. My industry experience includes work at Nortel Networks on both optical systems testing and telecommunications software.

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