Phantom Loads


The digital age is upon us. Everything is electronic and has an app, or so it seems. Data from the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) that tracks electricity consumption in the US clearly demonstrates the effect of the digital age on power use. Typically, in a recession, electric use drops as people cut back. However, in this last recession, it defied tradition and held steady. Most sources attribute this to the proliferation of digital, always on devices.

We love our digital devices and have a seemingly endless appetite for the latest and greatest. It is indeed a wonderful time to be a gadget person. However, with all this digital capability comes responsibility, conservation.

Each new digital device or appliance invariably comes with an AC power adapter. Let’s take the most common example, the cell phone charger. According to the EIA, each charger uses .26 watts just plugged into the outlet and 2.24 watts when connected to a fully charged phone. These use levels don’t include the amount required to get your cell phone back to full power.

In addition, many of our digital devices use power even when seemingly off. Cable boxes, cable boxes with DVRs, musical instrument amplifiers, home entertainment systems, televisions, gaming consoles and so on. The EIA has calculated that, on average, these devices consume 10% of a household’s energy each month.

Since it is October and Halloween is approaching, seems like an appropriate time to tackle these phantom or vampire Loads. So let’s get started with some ways to shave most, if not all, of this 10% from your bill. The good news is no messy garlic garlands or silver ammunition is required.

The easiest approach is to unplug the charger/ AC adapter when its device is not being charged. Problem solved, at least for those devices that can tolerate that type of treatment. These include your cell phone charger or any other infrequently used household device. But, what about devices that you cannot easily unplug, say the adapters for your TV and cable boxes which are stuffed behind the entertainment console? It can be a literal pain to get down on all fours and fumble around to unplug and re-plug these before and after each use.

And, why do manufacturers design products that use power even when they appear to be off in the first place? Customer satisfaction. Believe it or not, some folks are peeved when their TV doesn’t pop instantly to life or their game console has to download some software patch because it was truly without power. These companies want to avoid the negative reviews they’ll receive in such instances, reviews that might cost them customers. So, what other options do digital vampire slayers have?

Enter the smart power strip. Since nearly everything else is wearing the “smart” label these days, it was only a matter of time until it came to the humble power strip. These devices came out around five years ago or so and are readily available today. Here’s how they work. One outlet is the master. Whatever you plug into this outlet receives power all the time. When you turn on this particular device, the strip senses the flow of electricity and turns on power to the other outlets.

You decision is to determine what is plugged into the master outlet. The television? The cable box? If you have a DVR as part of your television setup, it should have the master spot, otherwise your programming is for naught. With a little tweaking, you can slash your phantom loads…just in time to power up that spooktacular Halloween display.