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Technology

Discover Data: Wasting Away on Standby

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by Rachael Moeller Gorman

Switching off your VCR, TV, and other household electronics doesn't really stop the power drain—it just places the devices on standby, ready to spring to life when you touch the remote. And the amount of electricity these devices devour while napping is staggering. Alan Meier of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has found that VCRs and DVD players draw 93 percent of their total power usage while inactive. Answering machines and cordless phones are worse—98 percent of their overall electricity consumption occurs while they're idle. When Meier combined that data with patterns of typical use, he found that roughly 6 percent of residential electricity powers electronics that are turned off. Only about 4 percent is consumed while the devices are on. Other devices, such as microwave ovens and garage-door openers, drive the percentage of idle-time electricity usage even higher. The federal government does not require manufacturers to label standby power usage on their appliances, but the laboratory has created a Web site listing devices that draw less than 1 watt of standby power (standby.lbl.gov/DATA/1Wproducts.html). In 2001 President Bush issued an executive order mandating that federal agencies buy only low-standby appliances.

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While switched off, home electrical devices consumed 71 terawatt-hours in 1999. The breakdown is shown above.Graphic by Matt Zang

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