Standby power, vampire power, phantom loads, leaking electricity… Whatever you want to call it, standby power is the power consumed by a product when in the lowest power consuming mode—typically when the product is switched off or not performing its primary purpose.

Alan Meier and colleagues at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) noted that many household appliances are never fully switched off, but spend most of the time in a standby mode, consuming electricity to power such features as clocks and remote control operation. They estimated that standby power accounts for 5%-10% of household electricity consumption.

LBNL calculated that videocassette recorders (VCRs) consumed more electricity over the course of a year in standby mode than while actively recording or playing. They measured the power consumed by cable and satellite boxes and found that they consume nearly as much power when switched off as when turned on; switching from “on” to “off” with a remote control seemed to do nothing more than switch a light from green to red in some cases. These findings are enough to want me to pull the plug on all my appliances and electronic devices!

Of course, we can always plug many of these devices into power strips and turn them off at the power strips when not in use. But then when we turn them on to use, many of the devices will drive us nuts blinking “0000” unless we reset the clocks.

The other option, more appealing to many people, is to buy devices that have standby losses next to zero. The U.S. government, the largest consumer, is leading the push by requiring government purchasers to select products with low standby power. DOE’s Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) just launched the FEMP Standby Power Data Center, a new Web site to help Federal agencies identify these low standby power products. But this site is not limited to just Federal government purchasers. The general public can avail itself of this site to help them make informed energy purchases as well.

Products covered currently include computers and workstations, computer monitors, computer speakers, modems, printers, copiers, scanners, fax/printers, multifunction devices, docking stations, TVs, VCRs, DVD players, consumer audio equipment, telephones, a variety of major appliances, and more.

Visit the FEMP Standby Power Data Center. Make informed energy purchases and keep the energy-sucking vampires out of your house!