By Dr Eugene Brink
In this age of rising electricity prices it is imperative that we save as much power as we can – especially on completely unnecessary appliances.
Fast fact: Roughly 10% or more of your electricity bills come from appliances that you have switched off, or you thought you have switched off.
“The villain in question is ‘vampire power’, also known as standby power and phantom load. You can also find it referred to as vampire energy, leaking energy, wall warts, standby loss, idle current, phantom power, ghost load and vampire load. The terms refer to the electricity many gadgets and appliances waste just by being plugged in (even if they’re switched off),” says Robert Lamb, contributor at Howstuffworks.com.
“After all, what do you think your cell phone charger does all day while it’s plugged into the wall? If it’s warm when you get home from work, then it’s been using electricity ─ even if it had nothing to charge.”
GE Miller, contributor at 20somethingfinance.com, says the US department of energy reckons that 75% of appliance energy is used when appliances are turned off. So, when that red light goes on when you’ve switched a particular appliance off, it does not mean it isn’t using power.
Just to think, you could easily absorb the National Energy Regulator’s (Nersa’s) latest approved tariffs for Eskom if you slay these vampires effectively.
Which devices classify as vampires?
These vampires lurk everywhere. Most are in full view, and yet, they may come as a surprise. The Terra Firma Academy argues that one of the main offenders is all appliances that are turned on via wireless remote control. When these are on standby (but nevertheless displaying a little red light), they are constantly drawing energy in order to power the receiver that senses the remote control.
Think of your Playstation console, which is not switched off by way of flipping the switch. Surround-sound systems and instant-on TVs are also included in this list.
The second type of serial offenders include those with a digital clock face. These include microwave ovens or sound systems that draw energy to power the digital display.
The third main type of energy vampire is cell-phone chargers. When plugged in but not charging a phone, they still draw power.
Other examples within these categories include computers and computer-related equipment (modems, routers, etc.), printers, air-conditioners, coffee makers, surround-sound systems, DStv decoders and DVD players.
PaylessPower, an American power supplying business, contends on its website that, in essence, every cord plugged into an outlet is pulling electricity out. “While many devices have sleep or standby modes, they still continuously use energy to perform updates, connect to remote servers, and record data.”
Driving a stake to the heart of these vampires
Lamb advises us to first identify the appliances that drain power when not in use.
Then, the first and most obvious tip is to turn off these appliances completely by unplugging them, flipping the switch at the wall socket or turning them off on the device itself and not only by remote control.
This is possible, but not always feasible as it means you’ll have to follow an arduous routine all day long. Therefore, decide what works best for each device: with a TV it is easier just to press the on/off button than to unplug it, while a cell-phone charger can easily be unplugged.
Close the microwave door and prevent the light inside from drawing more power. Also, plugging numerous devices into one socket makes it easier to be unplugged together. Smart strips sense when appliances are not in use and automatically turn off plug loads. Unplug lesser-used items completely.
GE Miller, 5 May 2019, “Stop Wasting Money on Electricity! Your Guide to Identifying & Unplugging Standby Power Appliances”, https://20somethingfinance.com/electrical-leaking-standby-appliance-list/.
PaylessPower, 26 July 2018, “Complete guide to vampire power”, https://paylesspower.com/blog/vampire-energy/.
Robert Lamb, n.d., “How vampire power works”, https://electronics.howstuffworks.com/everyday-tech/vampire-power2.htm.
SRP, 2019, “Slay the energy vampires in your home”, https://www.srpnet.com/energy/DIY/vampire.aspx.
Terra Firma Academy, 2017, “Energy vampires”, https://www.greenyourhomecourse.co.za/articles/energy-vampires/.