Phantom Power

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Chances are, most of us don’t know just how much power our appliances, electronics and other devices are consuming when they’re turned off. This hidden hum of wasted energy is known as ‘phantom load.’ The Department of Energy estimates that the proliferation of devices with stand-by power gobbles up some 40% of the energy consumed by home electronics. This wasted power equals the annual output of 17 power plants or about six per cent of America’s total residential electricity consumption.‘Phantom loads’ are an obvious target for conservation of energy and natural resources and for reduction of toxic power plant emissions. Fortunately, there are easy and relatively inexpensive upgrades that can reduce this major waste stream from homes and businesses, simple measures that can give a pay-back and possible tax deductions.Armed with 35 years of experience as an aero-space engineer, Gary Reysa, from Boseman, Montana is taking aim at the phantom menace. He’s made it his mission to spread the word about phantom loads and how to eliminate them.

Reysa: Well, phantom loads are a little bit like the dripping water pipe, its not a whole lot of flow at any given time but when you add it up over the year, it can be thousands of gallons of water. The kinds of things that exhibit phantom loads are TVs VCRs, microwave ovens, battery chargers, just about everything that plugs into the wall. And, for a typical house, these phantom loads, over a year, add up to about 500 kilowatt hours of electricity. So, in addition to costing you maybe about $50 in electricity cost, this can be in the neighborhood of about a thousand pounds of CO2 reduction. And since its such an easy thing to take care of, it just makes sense to try and eliminate phantom loads as much as you can.

Imagine the waste of power in a nation of 300 million consumers with multiple devices! Reysa offers advice on how consumers can tell if phantom loads exist and how to reduce them.

Reysa: One of the best ways to find out whether a device is drawing power or not is to buy one of these little watt meters, like a Kilowatt is a very popular one, and you plug the kilowatt meter into the wall and then the device into the kilowatt meter and it reads out exactly how much power its using. There are a number of ways to get rid of phantom loads but the simplest and most straightforward way is just to unplug things when you’re not using them. This can be a little bit of a hassle, like at your entertainment center, so you can use a power strip… plug each of the items into the power strip and then the power strip into the wall. And then when you want to use the entertainment center, just turn the power strip on and everything will come on and when you’re done with it, turn the power strip off and everything is completely off.

With computers so prevalent, we asked Reysa about wasted PC power.

Reysa: Many people just leave their computer and all of the related peripherals on when they are not actively using them. And this can result in large power usage. In our case, our 2 computers use 297 watts when they are just sitting there doing nothing. And, over a year, this amounts to about 2,000 kilowatt hours of electricity and that’s 4000 pounds of greenhouse gas. And this is an easy thing to control via the computer’s hibernate or stand-by settings and then using a power strip, at night that all your peripherals and your computer are plugged in to, just turn that off and then save that whole 300 watts all night long.

When buying new electric items, Reysa recommends starting with Energy Star rated devices, then checking standby loads with an Inexpensive meter. He claims that most businesses, with their large number of devices, often left on 24/7, have an extra opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by reducing phantom loads.

Reysa: I guess the thing to bear in mind about phantom loads is that, individually, they’re small but when you consider the fact that each house might have 20 or 30 of these devices and there are a hundred million households and businesses, this just adds up to a huge amount of totally needless waste of power and so by controlling phantom loads, we can really have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

With scientists virtually certain of human contributions to the climate crisis, we urge you to consider checking for and eliminating your worst phantom loads. For more information, please visit our website at

I’m Tom Bartels and I’m Tami Graham. Thanks for joining us on Good Dirt Radio, digging up good news….for a change.

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