Phantom Loads

I discovered your magazine about six months ago, and have become a most avid reader indeed! While I benefit from utility electricity, water, and gas all piped to my door, I have decided to see what I could do about reducing my energy consumption. Not "off grid," but "less grid," if you like. To that end, I recently bought one of the new generation of small plug-in electric energy meters, such

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THE STANDARD IN PV MOUNTING STRUCTURES1

as you have recently featured. It has been a revelation! Electricity is leaking out all over the place. And in places that I—and maybe your readers—would not expect.

We all now know about the evils of appliances on standby—the little red telltale light that says, "I'm still burning your money." So we all make the extra effort to get up off our backsides at the end of the evening and turn off the appliance at its built-in switch, secure in the knowledge that, with the little red light off, the equipment is well and truly off, right? Wrong! Many appliances continue to use electricity even in this "supposedly off" state.

• If you have a computer that you can restart by a twitch of the mouse, press of the keyboard, or brief touch to the power button to bring it to life, chances are that it still uses electricity even in this state—mine burns 12 W.

• I have a lovely color laser printer. When it's not running, it goes into standby (78 W), and if left unused for a further

30 minutes, turns itself "off" (no lights or signs of life). But even then, it is secretly consuming 20 W!

Many appliances continue to use electricity even in the "supposedly off" state.

• I have a nice, new flat-screen plasma TV. With the standby light on, it draws 29 W. Press the main power button on the TV; the light goes out and the consumption drops to—wait for it— 24 W. That's 24 W, 24/7.

• And here's a killer: a small digital TV receiver set that consumes 14 W when it's on and 14 W when it's off! Go figure.

Just the phantom loads I've mentioned here amount to almost 2 KWH per day! Then there are (or were!) the numerous wall-wart plug-in chargers, permanently plugged in and forgotten behind assorted heavy furniture, each snuffling a few watts apiece. In one case, the appliance the charger was designed

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to feed was no longer in use at all! One trick here is to replace older, heavy transformer-based adaptors for modern, lighter-weight, switched-mode power supplies. More initial outlay, but lower energy consumption in the long run.

The lesson here is that for many electronic devices, only "unplugged" means "off." I have installed individually switched outlets where they can be

People often think of wind availability as varying on a micro-level. A similar type of variation can happen with solar resources.

accessed and encouraged my family to use them. I have put timer switches on TVs, computers, CD players, and the like to electrically unplug the devices at times when I never expect the items to be in use anyway. While we wait for manufacturers to catch up with the leading-edge thinking on standby power, it pays us all to be doubly aware of the background consumption of many of our electrical items.

Next time I go shopping for a new TV, I might just take my little electric gizmo with me, if only to see the surprise on the sales assistant's face when I ask if I can plug it in to my prospective purchase first!

Laurence Wilkins • United Kingdom

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