On, Off, Nothing in Between

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Scotland doesn't like flying standby. At least, when it comes to their electronics.

STANDBY buttons on electrical appliances such as televisions should be disabled or removed to help the environment, Scotland's biggest energy supplier said last night.

ScottishPower has called for urgent action to tackle the current wasteful situation which sees gadgets on standby, or charging up, running up a bill of £62 million and producing 360,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide in Scotland every year.

The argument, it appears, is that the small amounts of juice your electronics need to remain in standby mode are, in the aggregate, a significant portion of overall energy use. Curbing that would, by this reasoning, create a huge power savings.

The article cites one dissenter who argues that special models for the UK market would drive up the cost to companies. Good point, but my initial thought was that people would simply choose to leave their products in the on mode more than they do now. The value of nearly-instant-on is enough, I would think, that people would simply choose always-on and consider the costs of running the equipment at a slightly higher rate for more time.

I'm also not a fan of the attempts to "count the costs" at the end of the article. The paper makes claims like "VCRs: Waste £16m of energy; produce 86,200 tonnes of carbon dioxide," and "DVDs: Use £1.7m of energy; produce 9,200 tonnes of carbon dioxide". Though no mention is made of how much fuel usage has been offset by people going to fewer movies during the week, less travel for entertainment, etc.

The other thing I wonder, though I haven't the technical savvy or industry expertise that others have to seriously review the issue, is what this would do to the energy grid. Electronics moving from standby to full power don't, I think, pull as much juice from the system as electronics moving from completely off to on. Might the wholesale elimination of "standby mode" increase spikiness in demand across the grid? And if so, what are the costs of increasing that kind of strain?

2 Comments

The problem with standby is that some electronics are poorly designed and actually draw as much or more power when in standby than when on. The "surge" for modern switched power supplies is not that great. Either way this is an old problem and most manufacturers are moving to lower usage designs: http://standby.lbl.gov/

Well, "I haven't the technical savvy or industry expertise that others have" either, but I suspect that individual switching of home appliances on, off, or in-between doesn't add up to much strain on the grid, if only because in a population of appliance users the brief moments of strain are not concentrated. Only when power is being restored after a power outage, when everyone in an area in effect has their appliances turned back on at once, is the strain of powering up a lot of appliances at once concentrated enough to concern power system operators.

I'm not sure how the numbers add up, so I don't know if standby is a significant issue when repowering a distribution system, but appliances that draw stand by power would contribute to this powering up stress because they are always ready to draw power (as are lights that are switched on, refrigerators, electric water heaters, electric heating and air conditioning units, and so on). Some electronic devices cycle off when they lose power, and have to be manually switched back on, so they wouldn't be drawing power during a system restart. One of the reports at the LBL site linked to by mcp above probably gets into these sorts of details.

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This page contains a single entry by published on April 17, 2006 10:02 AM.

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