Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Slay a Vampire and Save Money

I was researching something else when I ran across the term "vampire electronics."  It caught my interest and so I went looking for more information.

One of the things you will commonly hear people discussing is the high cost of utility bills each month, electricity being one of those utilities.  What if someone told you that you could save from $120-200 a year on electricity?

Standby electronics, sometimes referred to as "vampire electronics," individually may only be costing you an extra dollar or two a year, although some will cost considerably more, but add that many homes have at least 40 of these standby electronics and you move the figure into the hundreds of dollars.  For example, computers and monitors that are turned off at the machine still are drawing power in off mode.  The same for all the television systems and gaming systems.  Keep your cell phone charger plugged in even when no phone is being charged and it will draw power.  Keep your air conditioners plugged in when you aren't using them and they will still be drawing power.  Some of our electronics may be too complicated as to location to keep plugging in and then unplugging, such as a stove or microwave with a digital display.  But there are plenty of others that are fairly simple to turn off completely when not in use.  Yes, even your toaster could be an energy vampire.

What would you do if you "suddenly" found yourself with an extra couple of hundred dollars?  I'll bet you could find a better use than letting electronic appliances eat that money.

For some further information, go to


tesyaa said...

Sorry... but if I'm late for work because I have to remember to unplug my appliances, in the long run that will not be cost effective - I won't be as productive, my work will suffer, and my compensation will be affected by a lot more that $200.

(Yes, I did comment yesterday about driving out of my way to save a few pennies on gas - ironic, isn't it, but at least that occurred on a legal holiday)

Anonymous said...

Tessya - by driving out of your way, you created more pollution, by not unplugging at least a few appliances, you are also creating more pollution. The extra cost to our health care system from increased particulates will far outweigh your time/penny saving now in both dollars and cents and human costs - if not immediately then for the next generation. (I won't mention global warming since its so controversial, but everyone agrees that the particulates created by power generation and auto emissions increases the number of heart attacks and strokes and may be a factor in diabetes, not to mention asthma).

JS said...

Your post and tesyaa's comment reminded me of a very interesting article I read not too long ago about energy usage and its cost.

A major cost driver for electricity production is the sudden spike of demand when the majority of the population comes home from work. For example, most people get home around 6 and immediately turn on televisions, ovens, laundry machines, dishwashers, air conditioners, etc. Handling that sudden spike requires very expensive generators and equipment and is a major contributor to electricity pricing.

So, getting people to use less energy and to use it at "off peak" hours would produce far more savings (money and environmental) than would be expected - i.e., cutting peak usage by X% leads to savings of greater than X%.

Several studies were done by energy providers and researchers to try to figure out how they can entice or fool people into using less energy. The results were less than encouraging. Convenience is simply more important to people than saving money. The studies found that energy costs would have to go up by at least 4-5 times as much as current rates to make the average person want to change his/her behavior.

In fact, some of the tactics completely backfired. One of the studies did an energy survey of participants' homes and calculated how much every appliance cost per hour of usage on or off. They posted that amount to each appliance to get people to be more aware of their usage and cut down. Turned out most people had previously thought certain appliances were more expensive to run and now that they saw the true cost decided to use them even more! For example, people used to shut their computers off or put them to sleep but upon seeing the cost decided to leave them on 24/7 to avoid the time spent booting up.

The article had a lot more interesting information, but the gist is this: convenience tops savings for the vast, vast majority of people and only if costs skyrocketed would people change their behavior.

As for global warming, there's no controversy. The climate is changing. The exact changes that are occurring such as which areas will be affected and how are up for debate, but the climate is changing and all evidence points to a human cause.

leahle said...

I couldn't believe that that 40 number was possible in each home. I had a couple of minutes so I decided to count everything plugged in. Hit 40 before I even got to finish the whole house and the basement.

Agree that some things I won't be able to unplug after using them because it would take two people to move that stove, unplug it and then reverse that when you need to use it again. Not practical. But not unplugging a toaster or a coffee maker or any of the other counter top appliances? Takes half a second to do. All the computers are on power strips because of so many plugs needed. Never knew to power off the strip, but I do now, and again that should take half a sec.

Don't mind at all saving a few dollars and if I can help the environment too, then why not?

ProfK said...

That article sounds very interesting, but I do have a comment re the peak hour usage. Yes, when people get home from work around 6 in large droves then there will be a peak. What are really the only choices available to reduce that peak?

You could tell people that they should get up at least 2-3 hours earlier than they do now and do laundry, use the dishwasher etc. before leaving to work. Frankly, I don't think that would work out so well.

Or we could tell people that they have to wait until at least 7:30-8:00 until they use any electrical devices. Again, not practical and it won't work. You might want to call this a matter of convenience, but I think practicality is the better word here. People have to get some sleep at some point and seriously cutting into that sleep time because of peak electric usage is not going to catch on.

Seems to be a fact of life that if someone is at home then electricity is going to get used. The generators needed for this heavier usage are more costly? Get someone working on producing a less costly generator and/or tell the electric companies to suck it up--cost of doing business in the areas where they do business.

There is also this which puzzles me. Adults and children leave in the morning to work and to school. During daytime hours schools, businesses and offices are pulling quite a bit of electricity,all at the same time, and homes aren't. Why doesn't this cause a peak in electric usage? When the adults and children leave their schools and offices and businesses they are using way less by electricity in those places, so why should home use suddenly cause such a peak?

JS said...


Some of the usage that occurs when people get home is perhaps unavoidable. Other usage could be shifted to other times with minor inconvenience. For example, putting a dishwasher on before bedtime or loading it and starting it on a timer. Another example was having meals mostly prepared so food is just heated up during peak usage instead of cooked. Another example was laundry in the mornings or later in the evenings. Yet another was setting thermostats to cool the house earlier in the day and then turning off in the evening so the house is cool already before people get home and would stay cooler in the evening as the sun isn't beating down.

The studies showed that people really don't like the inconvenience of these measures. People have a routine and aren't going to change it to save a few bucks. Energy costs had to rise 4-5 times as much to make people willing to change habits or accept inconvenience.

I don't understand the details of electricity generation and distribution, but the article explained there are special generators that are designed to quickly provide power when usage spikes. These generators, by their nature, are costlier to run and maintain (and are often older because they are VERY expensive to replace and thus may not be as efficient as possible). The energy companies aren't going to "suck it up" since it's a universal issue and why should they absorb the cost?

Compare the energy usage at home versus an office. You have air conditioning, but it's a large system that is likely pretty efficient per person. Lights use VERY little energy. Most offices use fluorescent bulbs or other energy efficient bulbs. There are computers that use relatively little energy. Maybe some copiers that sit idle most of the day. What else is there? At home nearly every appliance is an energy guzzler: electric ovens, microwaves, dishwashers, laundry machines, air conditioners, HDTVs, etc. The energy usage is probably bigger by an order of magnitude if not more.

Also, don't forget that when people are at work their homes are mostly off. When people come home, the businesses likely still have lights on, computers on, and air conditioning on. So it's not like one replaces the other. Home use is just added on top.

JS said...

Here's the article:

Anonymous said...

"As for global warming, there's no controversy. The climate is changing. The exact changes that are occurring such as which areas will be affected and how are up for debate, but the climate is changing and all evidence points to a human cause."


When you cut out the BS the main dispute is feedback. The fraudulent "hockey stick" claimed a forward feedback loop that would cause a tipping point after which change wouldn't matter.

This feedback loop is based on computer models that seemingly have no predictive value, so the models are not falsifiable, therefore, not considered science.

The dispute is not "is the climate changing," of course it is. There is a dispute as to the percentage of change being a result of human factors vs. natural factors, and a real dispute as to the feedback mechanism.

Almost everything is negative feedback loops, a positive feedback loop would be quite unusual.

JS said...

Not sure what you're referring to. It seems to be to the scientists and models that ended up being based on fake data.

There are both negative and positive feedback loops relating to climate change. said...

Basically, energy can be sent on the grid and used or wasted (sent to ground). It's can't be stored (not cost effective to store any meaningful amount, more reasonable to just over power the grid a few percentage points).

Power plants have different operating costs as a function of:

fuel type
labor costs
efficiency of plant
applicable environmental laws based upon age of the plant

The power companies use them more or less in order of costs. The 4c Kilowatt Hour plant fires before the 5c, before the 8c, before the 12c, etc., etc.

Certain plants can't be brought up and down (think Nuclear, Hydro, etc), so those ALWAYS run. If the power companies don't have enough power to handle peak times, you have brownouts.

The older plants have less environmental safeguards, but one of the positive effects of that is that they are often faster to bring up/down... one of the ways to make things cleaner is to keep them at a steady state that you can manage more than peaks or valleys.

It is obviously cheaper to build a system that supplies X power than 2X power. So smart grids, remote controllable appliances, differential billings, etc., are all meant to influence this somewhat.

Your example of heating/cooling the house earlier (before the grids get slammed) doesn't use less power, it MIGHT use more, but it might use more power before the peak usage, and therefore be more cost effective to supply.

The smoother the line, the most you can build environmentally and economically friendly plants to supply power. The less smooth the line, the more you need variable plants that you can bring up and down.