The Lurker in Your Outlet

PhantomPlugBy Jessica Garrity

Phantom energy: What is it and why should we reduce it? Phantom energy is also known as plug load, phantom power, ghost load, vampire load and a few other names, but all of them state pretty plainly what it is. It is power that is consumed by your appliances when they are “shut off.”

So why are my appliances still using energy after I’ve shut them off?  Many devices need at least a small amount of power to provide secondary functions such as waiting for a remote signal, text or light displays (such as the digital clock on your microwave) or circuits that remain energized when the device is plugged in and switched off. Another example is phone or computer chargers that still draw energy from the wall even when they are not connected to and charging a phone or computer. You can feel the plug load dissipating from the charger in the form of heat.

If it’s just a small amount of power, why am I worried about it? In the U.S. it is estimated that phantom power accounts for approximately 10% of our total energy usage. This adds up to $3 billion wasted annually in the U.S. and an average of $200 a year wasted per household. Not only are we wasting money, we are wasting energy which is more often than not produced via the burning of fossil fuels.

Alright, so how do I stop the phantom energy, save money and also help out the environment? There are a few ways to reduce phantom energy use. There are also some devices that cannot perform essential functions without constant power. The way to reduce phantom energy use by these devices (such as security systems, fire alarms and DVRs which need to be on at all times to do what they’re supposed to) is to buy appliances that are EnergyStar™ rated and may use up to 50% less phantom energy. The other solution is simple, just unplug the devices that you are not using! For example make sure you unplug chargers when they aren’t charging, any hair dryers, straighteners and curling irons can be unplugged when not in use, and even your modem for wireless internet can be unplugged when you’re not in the house. And for those appliances that are much more inconvenient to unplug when not in use, there are smart and switchable power strips which will stop your vampire appliances from sucking power when they’re not in use.

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