Most appliances that use electricity, including televisions, DVD players, computers, stereos, and kitchen appliances, consume energy even when they are not powered on. This energy is often referred to as a Phantom Load, due to its invisibility to many consumers and its largely pointless use of energy. This standby power supports functions such as instant-on capabilities, remote control usage, channel memory, and LED clock displays, and can consume more than half of the energy that these devices use when powered on, some using up to 40 watts. A powered-off instant-on television in standby, for example, consumes 75% of the energy used when the TV is actually on. While consumer electronics account for around 15% of household electricity use, these Phantom Loads make up an estimated 6%, and add up to national costs of approximately $4 billion per year!
Predictably enough, the solution to this problem is to unplug your appliances when they are not in use. For some appliances this might be just as easy as teaching oneself to turn off the lights when leaving a room or going to sleep, but for some it is not quite so convenient. If, however, your outlets are in accessible places, or power strips can be made accessible, the job is pretty easy. Especially considering you're paying almost as much to run these appliances when they are off as when they are on.
Unfortunately, some of the biggest offenders may not be easy to stop -- cable boxes and satellite systems tend to use quite a bit of energy when not in use, but may need to be plugged in at all times. Contact your provider of these services to find out whether it will damage the equipment if the power supply is cut off. Similarly, unplugging the television, VCR, or DVD player may seem like a hassle, as any channel settings or clock settings may be lost.
Power strips may be extremely helpful in this regard for reducing Phantom Loads. With a group of items plugged into a power strip, you can simply power off the strip when going to bed. This may work especially well with related items, such as components of a stereo system, or computers with speakers, printers, or other equipment. In these cases, you might also consider investing in a Smart Strip. Smart Strips allow you to tie the power to a set of devices to the power setting of a main device. In other words, when you power off your computer, the strip will automatically stop power to the monitor and speakers, and any other associated items. These strips also come with several unrelated outlets that remain active at all times, for items that should always have power available.
In addition to appliances, power cords for rechargeable devices may use a lot of power when not in use. AC adapters/cube transformers are between 60 and 80% inefficient! Thus, it is important to unplug chargers when the item is fully charged or no longer plugged in. This goes for phones, cameras, laptops, mp3 players, portable game systems, and anything else that needs to be charged.
Knowing about Phantom Loads in your home will not only conserve energy and, thus, help the environment, but it will also save you some of that 6% of your energy bill that was being used to do little more than run a few LED clocks.