The Power of Vampires Costs you More than Your Box-Office Dollars
Vampires aren't just the stars of Hollywood blockbusters; they waste billions of dollars every year. Much like vampires can't survive without draining the energy of others, modern electronics consume power even when they're off, a concept known as “vampire power.” While the benefits of modern technology have allowed mankind to achieve a lavish lifestyle never seen in history, they also place unprecedented strain on our environment. The energy used to heat, cool and light your home doesn't just have an immediate financial cost to you. For every watt of fossil-fuel energy consumed, large amounts of carbon dioxide are released. Radiation from the sun enters our atmosphere, reflecting off of the ground, but the reflected light energy is trapped by the carbon dioxide that accumulates. Every single use of electronics contributes to the accumulating effect of greenhouse gas.
It might seem like we're fighting a losing battle. Power usage per individual grows every year, and as our population grows, the hill grows steeper. Instead of worrying about society as a whole, we should each worry about our own personal “carbon footprint.” Each and every one of us can make a measureable difference if we start thinking about the ways our daily lives affect the environment.
In energy consumption, there are the necessities that cannot be compromised, but there are many things that you can do to immediately decrease your carbon footprint, with no negative impact to your lifestyle. A perfect example is the problem of standby power usage, also known as “vampire power.” Standby power is the unnecessary consumption of energy by electronics for uses that provide no obvious benefit to the owner. This electronic vampirism comes in many forms, ranging from TVs and electronics that run in constant `sleep mode', to cell phone chargers that draw current from the wall, even when the phone is not plugged in. The Department of Energy recently estimated that this silent energy drain accounts for about 450 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy consumed by a typical American household per year, equivalent to at least $28 of completely unnecessary costs. That's a conservative estimate, with other sources putting the costs of vampire power at as high as $130 per year, depending on which electronics are included in the estimate. For homes with more TVs and such appliances, or areas with particularly high energy costs (California now averages 11.3 cents per kWh), these costs escalate. A typical desktop computer uses about 100 watts of power at any one time, about the same as a halogen lamp. It might not seem like much, but you can expect to pay about $75 just powering that machine every year. If you have a plasma TV, standby charges can be as high as $165 a year.
Electronics makers include standby modes for convenience's sake. TV's pull power at all times, so they're ready to turn on instantly, known as a “soft shutdown.” Most entertainment appliances have built-in clocks running at all times. Even the innocuous answering machine can consume as much as 40 kWh per year. But the most egregious waste of power comes from devices that aren't even running. Cell-phone chargers are now a ubiquitous presence in American households, with “wall warts” often in several rooms of the same household. Most of these cables pull current out of the wall even when they're not charging a phone.
Many aspects of creating an efficient home can be expensive, requiring extensive renovation, but reducing your vampire power usage is a bargain. Plugging your TVs and entertainment systems into surge protectors allows you to switch off all of the devices with the flick of a switch when you leave the room. Some surge protectors even have timers or motion sensors to make it even easier. These gadgets cost 40 or 50 dollars, but they pay for themselves within a year. Next time you buy a TV, washing machine, dishwasher, or any other appliance, buy them only if they have the Energy Star logo. Energy Star is a government program that endorses consumer electronics if they are energy efficient. Slowly switching out appliances with more efficient alternatives can save a lot of money.
It all comes down to how willing we are to take the initiative and get something done. Instead of getting swept up in the politics of climate change, why not make an immediate difference? Turning off your electronics when they're not in use is common sense, not flagrant environmentalism. You're saving money, reducing your personal carbon footprint, and to top it off, you have the moral reward of knowing you're more efficient in a world that seems addicted to waste.