Our love of digital devices has a cost: vampire energy consumption — the electricity used when a device is not in use.
Here are ways to measure how much AC power our gadgets soak up and how to put them on a power diet.
Getting a handle on our home power budget
More than ever before, we live in an electric world. Those heavy wires that run into our homes and businesses now power almost everything. Clean clothes and unspoiled food aside, without alternating current (AC), there’d be no digital life — no PCs, no phones, no Internet, no HBO, no cat videos, and so on. (I’m sure there are times when many of us feel we’d be better off without those things.)
Electrical energy obviously makes our lives better, but it also has consequences — both monetary and environmental. Bluntly put, the less we use, the better for everyone.
The monthly power bill clearly states how much electricity we consume, but it won’t tell us how much is wasted. Compared to the typical refrigerator and clothes dryer, our tech gadgets would seem to consume relatively little energy. But taken together, our monitors, printers, phone rechargers, entertainment systems, tablets, routers, and so forth actually waste a surprising amount of power. That’s because many of these gadgets are never truly off. Unless you block the electrons feeding them, their overall consumption can add up.
In this article, I’ll provide tips for managing the distribution of power to our digital devices. I’ll start with watt meters, which can reveal how much power individual devices are using, both when active and when in standby. I’ll then cover devices that provide energy to our gadgets only when they need it.
But first, some technical clarification: to decipher power consumption, you need to understand the difference between a watt and a watt-hour. Simply put, watts measure the amount of electricity being used at a given moment. For instance, a lit 15-watt light bulb is continuously consuming 15 watts of power. Watt-hours (Wh) is the measure of electricity use over time. Leave that same bulb on for an hour, and it will have burned 15Wh. (A kilowatt-hour [KWh], of course, is a thousand watt-hours.)