A cost that is borne by customers
Would you believe me if I said your microwave uses more electricity just sitting there as an expensive clock than when it's actually cooking food? No? Well get ready to be shocked. When you turn off electrical devices they don't always go off. Many of them go into standby mode and continue to burn electricity. Some devices can burn as much as 20 watts when in standby. Sometimes the standby mode is to provide you with a "quick start", run a little clock, or wait for a signal from a remote. And many electrical devices will use far more energy than what is needed to perform these functions. Other times it's simply cheaper for the company to force you to burn electricity than to invest a few more pennies and add a proper off switch. One prime example is a cellphone charger. According to Treehugger only 5% of the electricity used by a cellphone charger is from actually charging the phone. The other 95% of the electricity is being burned when the charger is just sitting there attached to the wall with no cellphone. Basically there is a ratio of 19:1 for waste versus actual use of electricity. The Economist has even jumped on this story and interviewed Dr. Alan Meier, a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in Berkeley:
"The worst offenders consume more than 20 watts in standby mode. But nearly all standby functions, Dr Meier insists, can be performed with a power consumption on standby of one watt or less."The Economist continues on: "Strange though it seems, a typical microwave oven consumes more electricity powering its digital clock than it does heating food." Dr. Meier claims $3 billion is wasted from electrical devices sitting in standby. As Meier said before this problem has an easy solution. One such solution is commonly referred to as a vampire slayer. These are devices that use one watt or less of energy per hour when in standby mode. Dr. Meiers says that simply adding a vampire slayer (or meeting vampire slayer standards) would have the same carbon-dioxide emission reducing effect as removing 18 million cars from the roads. As far back as June 2001 president Bush made public statements addressing the problem. In 2002 Bush signed an executive order requiring government agencies to purchase "low-standby-power devices as long as it’s practical and economical for them to do so". That's a good start. However, that was five years ago and little to nothing has been done since then. Although the average American citizen can get tax credits to improve the efficiency of their home there's no real incentive to encourage companies to make more efficient products. The only only encouragement they get is the ability to put the energy star sticker on products that meet the EPA's standards.
Equipment-makers do not have any incentive to use more efficient components, after all, since the cost (in higher power consumption) is borne by their customers.
That is why regulators around the world have started to introduce rules designed to encourage manufacturers to make their products less power-hungry. Most of these rules are voluntary: examples include the international Energy Star programme, the European Union's codes of conduct agreed with electronics manufacturers, and the standards laid down by the Australian Greenhouse Office.
Treehugger Treehugger Homework: Unplug Your Cellphone Charger November 26, 2005 2:28 PM
Economist: Pulling the plug on standby power Mar 9th 2006
Digg: Pulling the plug
Free version of the Economist at Lawrence Berkeley Labs
Whitehouse: Bush Administration Takes the Lead on Energy Conservation
Al Gore: Unplug your charger
GCN, As promised, Bush orders less standby power use, Patricia Daukantas, August 27, 2001 issue
Lawrence Berkeley Labs, Standby Power Usage