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This is kind of interesting.......

"I Vant to Drink Your Vatts

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Published: November 17, 2005

WASHINGTON — Households across the land are infested with vampires. That's what energy experts call those gizmos with two sharp teeth that dig into a wall socket and suck juice all night long. All day long, too, and all year long. Most people assume that when they turn off the television set it stops drawing power.

But that's not how most TV's (and VCR's and other electronic devices) work. They remain ever in standby mode, silently sipping energy to the tune of 1,000 kilowatt hours a year per household, awaiting the signal to roar into action.

"As a country we pay $1 billion a year to power our TV's and VCR's while they're turned off," said Maria T. Vargas, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program, which sets voluntary standards for energy use, and grants its ratings to the most efficient products.

There are billions of vampires in the United States, drawing more than enough current in the typical house to light a 100-watt light bulb 24/7, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, a research arm of the Energy Department.

These silent energy users include the chargers for devices that run on batteries, like cellphones, iPods and personal digital assistants, and all the devices around the house that have adapters because they run on direct current, like answering machines. Some have both batteries and steady power use, like cordless phones. Experts call all those adapters "wall warts." Many deliver in direct current only half as much energy as they suck out of the wall; the rest is wasted.

Vampires and wall warts are only part of the problem. DSL or cable modems, among other things, are increasingly likely to be left on around the clock. A computer left on continuously can draw nearly as much power as an efficient refrigerator - 70 to 250 watts, depending on the model and how it is used.

It's not that hard to engineer a more energy-aware computer: Dell introduced one in 2004 that drew 1.4 watts in "sleep" mode and just under one watt when "off." But energy-efficient design is not necessarily rewarded in the marketplace, where people who are shopping for the latest shiny electronic device are unlikely to put its energy consumption rate while "off" topmost on a list of considerations.

Energy efficiency experts say the answer lies instead in industry-wide standards, which would require manufacturers to build appliances with low consumption when in standby.

Just about everyone supports such a move. President Bush early on announced that electric devices purchased by the federal government would need to meet a standby consumption standard. Congress is pushing forward, too. This summer it passed a bill to set testing protocols for measuring energy use, clearing the way for nationwide consumption standards. The Energy Department held a meeting this week to discuss developing the standards. California has already adopted its own, to take effect in 2006.

Among the worst vampires are big-screen televisions, mainly because of satellite and cable boxes, which can draw up to 30 watts when turned off, experts say.

Indeed, the words "off" and "on" no longer seem to apply; a better word might be "idling."

"They won't even say 'off' now; they'll say 'power,' " noted Alan K. Meier, a senior energy analyst at the International Energy Agency, a consortium based in Paris. "My washing machine draws five watts even when there's no sign of intelligent life."

One culprit is the microchip, whose presence is revealed by a "soft button" instead of a switch. Microchips are generally an improvement over mechanical controls because they are more durable and sophisticated. They also help reduce the size and weight of consumer products. But they require a continuous trickle of electricity. Energy experts say it would be simple to cut that trickle in half - not by running around the house unplugging everything in sight, which would require much resetting of clocks, but by engineering products differently.

It doesn't cost much to make a more efficient device: sometimes just 50 cents a unit, they say. But consumers don't consider invisible energy use - "there's no labeling of power use in 'standby,' " Mr. Meier said, and "no way for people to recognize what a low-standby device is" - making government-imposed energy efficiency the best hope, he said.

The Energy Department would be in charge of setting standby mode standards that would apply to all consumer products sold in the United States. "Things may be a small step for each individual consumer," said Douglas Faulkner, the acting assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, "but they can add up across the country."

The Energy Star program, whose labels on electronics help consumers comparison shop, has announced that it will not rate a product that fails its standby mode requirements (consumers in the market for VCR's, among other things, can see how they rate at energystar.gov).

"Consumers are buying more electronics, and there are more consumers," Mr. Faulkner said. "So the amount used by these devices is going up."

All the more reason to make each item as energy efficient as possible.

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