This Week’s Energy Diet Challenge- Exorcising Phantom Load

Yes, you read that correctly. I am suggesting that we all purge ghostly energy draws like they were poltergeists! 
I find the issue of phantom load (energy that is drawn from appliances and electronics that are turned off, but left plugged into the wall or a powerbar) very interesting, and actually ponder it often. Even though a lot of us upgrade our appliances to energy efficient versions, we often find our electricity usage doesn’t change. In fact, our national electricity demands have grown at an average rate of 1.2 percent since 1990, and to a large degree, it’s because we have more and more gadgets plugged in our homes. According to BC Hydro, the average North American home has 25 devices that are constantly drawing power, whether we are actively using them or not.

Sometimes, we North Americans have some pretty pathetic excuses for wasting resources. Phantom load is a great example of this. We spend an average of 10 percent of our electricity bills on wasted energy because we don’t want to have to reset the clock that we never use on the DVD player! The reasons not to turn off our digital devices are numerous; things take time to reboot, we can’t find the powerbar because it’s buried in the jumble of wires, or an electrician installed our whole system and we don’t have a clue how it works. I’ve heard them all, but in the end it’s simply wasteful (financially and environmentally), and it feels good to eliminate phantom load in the home as much as possible. It’s also not overly challenging. There are lots of smart devices out there make it easy to eliminate phantom load if you’re forgetful with unplugging or turning off power bars. Programmable power bars and power bars with remote wall-mounted switches are two of my favorites.


My Own Experience

My family tries hard to keep things simple and consider our electronics carefully before purchasing, so we don’t get caught in the “”need to have it”” consumer train. We have two laptops; a newer Mac desktop with printer, a TV/DVD combo that gets used maybe six times/year, two cell phones (both mine), a digital camera and an iPod touch. We also have a nine-year-old who uses old cell phones for play, while she bides her time before campaigning for a live one of her own, but that’s a different story!

For a long time, I thought the laptop chargers had no phantom load because they didn’t get hot when they were left plugged in without a computer on the other end. My partner always pointed out when I’d left them in the outlet, and in fact it became a nightly ritual when he’d lean over to turn off our reading light, and then remind me to unplug the charger. But I was convinced that it was a non-issue. I ate my overconfident words on that one. They each use two watts, and we have three chargers. Two watts sounds like nothing, but when you start doing the math (2 watts X 24 hours/day X 7 days/week), it adds up quickly.

The Challenge

Many small appliances don’t have a phantom load. Things like lamps, simple blenders and toasters are not a concern, but it will be up to the EDC families to go around their homes (and garages – hint, hint) and find the ghostly culprits. They will use their power monitors to add up exactly how many watts they are consuming in phantom power. Then our diligent and creative contestants will find systems that work for everyone in their families to effectively deal with the issue. Over time, they will enjoy the money saved; an average of $50-$200 annually.