I vant to suck your….energy?

July 14, 2011

By Guest Blogger and COS Summer Research Student Julia Casciotti

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It’s a cold, dark, and rainy night. You turn off the television and close your laptop to turn in and as you’re plugging in your cell phone to charge as you sleep, you feel an unexplainable eerie presence in your home. Perhaps a ghost? A phantom? You reassure yourself that the spook is only in your imagination…but it’s not. You have a vampire in your home.

A growing area of concern for environmentalists is a phenomenon known as “vampire energy loss” or “phantom energy.” Overlooking its strange name, this concept refers to the energy lost through appliances that are turned off or in standby mode. It was estimated that $10 billion was spent on this form of wasted electricity in the United States just last year.  As students, we’re virtually always plugged into some sort of electronic device, be it our laptops for twelve hours at a time in Swem or our iPhones which need constant charging to keep up with our 3G and texting addictions. On average, laptop computers in sleep mode are still consuming half as much energy as they do when they are in use.  Additionally, game consoles in “ready” mode consume only 5 watts less than those in active mode. Although cell phone chargers only use a small amount of energy to begin with, it costs nearly as much energy to leave your phone plugged in fully charged as it does when it is actually charging.*

There are several steps you can take to minimize this wasted energy.  For example, remember to unplug your electronics when they are not in use or after they finish charging.  Some devices, namely computers, have a “power save” mode intended to reduce the energy consumed when the device is not in use.  This is the most energy efficient setting and should be utilized when available.  When shopping for new appliances, look for the EnergyStar label, indicating that they meet energy efficiency guidelines set out by the EPA.  These electronics are automatically set to enter into sleep mode when not in use and consume much less energy than those which have to be switched manually.

In order for the College to better comply with these guidelines for energy efficiency, we are taking preliminary steps to replace old printers, copiers and computers on campus with newer more efficient models.  As part of a COS Summer research project regarding E-Recycling, my partner and I will be measuring energy uses of different machines on standby to see which campus clunkers are unnecessarily using up the most energy in hopes that these will be soon upgraded. If you’re curious about exactly how much phantom energy you’re using in your home or dorm room, you can even rent a watt reader from Swem to get an accurate reading of your consumption.

So, the next time you get a supernatural feeling in your home, it might be a vampire! Just take a deep breath, put away your garlic and wooden stakes, and start following these small tips to conserve energy and save money.  Dracula won’t stand a chance.

*Data from the Lawrence Berkeley National Library

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Welcome to Hark Upon the Green! This blog is a shared space for members of the sustainability community at William & Mary to write about sustainability topics on and beyond. If you would like to contribute to the blog, contact Madeleine Boel, Committee on Sustainability Web Assistant, at mgboel@email.wm.edu.
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