Switching-off standby

Last updated Wednesday 30 April 2008

Reach out to save power

A gadget left on 'standby' isn't really off, it's just playing possum. Avoid leaking lekky by switching off at the mains.

Are you squandering money on power without even noticing? Gadgets you think are turned off may still be draining electricity on the sly. Unplugging one electric toothbrush might not seem such a big deal: but what about that DVD player? And the microwave, and the printer, and the games console, and the digital radio? Turning them all off at the mains can zap 8% off your annual electricity bill.

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Photo: Switching-off standby

Saves 50kg of CO2 a year

1443 Bloomers are doing this

CO2 reduction 1 out of 5

Cheapness 3 out of 5

Popularity 5 out of 5

Cost Saves 28 a year

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How will it make a difference?

Pub Fact

  • The average microwave oven uses more energy powering its digital clock than it does cooking food (costing the owner 7 per year)
  • A survey by the Energy Saving Trust found that the average household has up to 12 gadgets left on standby or charging at any one
  • Homes spend 6-10% of their electricity bills on wasted 'standby' energy
  • By 2020, entertainment, computers and gadgets will account for 45% of electricity used in the home and will need the equivalent of 14 average sized power stations just to power them
  • UK households will have an average of 3 television sets by 2020
  • The International Energy Agency says that 1% of global carbon dioxide emissions are due to standby power usage

The average Brit has about 25 devices at home so between them they take quite a toll on our emissions tally and our bank balance, even when we think they're 'off'.

  • If everyone in the UK stopped using standby for a year, the entire population of Glasgow could fly to New York and back and we'd still cut greenhouse gases
  • Quitting standby in the UK would save 700m of energy in the UK annually - enough to pay the energy bills of nearly 800,000 homes
  • If the whole world followed suit, it would avoid 1% of global CO2 emissions, about 240 million tonnes of CO2

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What's stopping me?

"I can't turn off my TV's set-top box"

True, set-top boxes are wired insomniacs. They chug electricity 24/7 and emit more CO2 a year than the average citizen of Burundi. Many Freeview boxes can be turned off but the larger subscription boxes must be left idling around the clock, costing up to 15 per year. You could fight back by buying an integrated digital TV or one of the more upmarket models, which generally use less energy on standby.

"Turning my computer on and off shortens the life of the hard disk"

Rarely true. As long as you aren't sitting at a Spectrum or some other 8-bit 80s hangover, your computer will be designed for tens of thousands of switching cycles. Electronic lifetimes are often measured in time switched on, so powering down could postpone the machine's retirement.

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How do I do it?

Standby to switch off:

  • Turn off all appliances at the mains - or pull the plug out
  • Buy a 'standby stopper', which cuts power to any devices connected to it at the press of a button, or a remote control
  • Consider fewer, higher-quality gadgets which tend to have lower standby power needs
  • When your current TV dies, buy an Integrated Digital Television (IDTV) which saves energy by combining a set-top box and TV

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Comments

alec 2009-02-26

i've recently bought remote controlled sockets which are great. i hit 1 button and all my appliances in that room are isolated. i even have the remote near the light switch so it's now become routine. i've not gotten around to making a note of the power uasage differance yet but it must be better then without them.

Baz, Shrewsbury 2009-02-20

We all think of those appliances with remote controls when we consider switching off on standby. However, it may be more complex than this. I recently brought a Panasonic NN-CS596S microwave oven. One of the main factors governing my choice was the power supply in the oven. Rather than being the old transformer type with a very heavy and inneficient low frequency transformer, I thought it would be greener to buy a microwave with a more efficient 'Inverter' power supply. OH NO IT'S NOT! it turns out that when this microwave is just sitting in my kitchen doing nothing but tell me the time, it consumes 78 Watts, and that's 24/7. Thats a huge amount of power, more than it would use to actually cook the food. Come on Panasonic, get your act togeather. To be fair to Panasonic, it's probably not just them, so check the standby consumption of your white goods as well as AV goods.

Baz, Shrewsbury 2009-02-04

The amount of energy saved gy switching off will depend on the sophistication of the power supply unit (PSU) in the appliance. My old Sony Betamax video recorder consumed 60 watts when it was on and not much less on standby, but it's gone now. I checked our small LCD telly yesterday, it has a separate PSU, when I connected one of the plug in power meters I found it consumed 30watts when running, 20 watts on standby BUT after a minute or so this fell to 5 watts as the PSU fell asleep.
So the newer stuff saves less, but a saving can still be made, but it's the older kit that really drinks the juice on standby.

Anonymous, London 2009-01-15

I already do this at home but will now also try to switch my Pc off at work- before it was just on standby (the Button in the vista- programe makes it so easy to forget the Pc is still on...)

Nick, Northants 2009-01-07

As already said by David from Norfolk, it's a small change on its own but across the country would be huge.

Like Dave its become one of my pet hates at work when people leave monitors on standby when they go home and I find myself swithing them off as I go. If only something could be done to switch off all the brightly shining IP phones on everyones desks too then I'd be a happy bunny !

Anonymous 2009-01-03

Now I've adopted this and made it a habit, it's really easy! Find myself doing it everywhere - convincing my father in law is another matter - he's a stand by junkie. Will keep at it!

DavidfromNorfolk 2008-08-14

Although the amounts of energy saved per household are small, this action done across the whole country would make a huge difference. Everyone in our home now switches off 'at the wall'.
My employer is a huge user of electricity and a number of us shut down equipment when not in use and switch off non essential lighting in the daytime and at night.

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Glossary terms used on this page
CO2
CO2, or carbon dioxide, is made up of the elements carbon and oxygen. It exists quite naturally in our atmosphere, as part of the carbon cycle. Everyday processes in the plant and animal world both add CO2 to the atmosphere and take it out. However, because it is a greenhouse gas - meaning it affects the temperature of the earth - the exact level of CO2 is important. Burning fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere, hence the anxiety that extensive use of these fuels is causing climate change.
Emissions
Emissions are the CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) produced by energy use, usually calculated and stated as an annual tally: also referred to as your carbon footprint. Your personal emissions can be direct - such as the gas you personally use to heat your home or the petrol you burn to power your car - or indirect - meaning the energy use that has gone into the products or services you buy. The latter, such as the emissions caused by the manufacture of your new TV, or the packaging your food comes in, are also referred to as embodied emissions.
Greenhouse gases
Greenhouse gases raise the earth's temperature through the greenhouse effect. There are six main examples. As well as carbon dioxide, they include: water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and CFCs (which include sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs). Of these, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs are controlled under the Kyoto Protocol to limit their concentration in the atmosphere. The heat warming capacity of each gas is measured by its 'global warming potential': how much heat it traps depends on its chemical make-up and how long it stays in the atmosphere.
Standby
Standby, or 'sleep mode', is a mode in which electronic appliances are turned off but still drawing current and ready to activate on command. Although legislation has limited the energy new appliances can use in standby mode, they still use more energy than if they are switched off at the wall.

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