Citation: Sharon Beder, 'Slaying electricity "vampires"', Engineers Australia, November 2001, p. 59.

This is a final version submitted for publication. Minor editorial changes may have subsequently been made.

Sharon Beder's Other Publications

George W. Bush was dubbed 'vampire slayer' when he gave a speech earlier this year denouncing 'vampires' that suck 52 billion kilowatt hours of electricity each year from the US electricity grid. This is the equivalent of 26 average-sized power plants--more than would be required to power a large city and costs a billion dollars per year.

The vampires he was referring to are electrical appliances that consume power whilst not in use, that is, in standby mode. They include many items around the home including those with remote controls such as televisions, VCRs and garage door openers; those with digital clocks or displays such as microwave ovens; and those with a low-voltage transformer (the small black cube that you plug in) such as portable telephones and answering machines. Each uses small amounts of power when not in use so that they can power an internal clock, have a continuous display, maintain internal memory, monitor temperatures or other conditions, be ready to charge batteries, or be ready to respond to an electrical signal to start.

All these small amounts of power add up because each home has several of them. In fact many microwaves use more energy, over a year, when they are standing by than when they are in use. The same is true of security systems, satellite television systems and CD players. The average home stereo in Australia uses 11.7 watts when it is being used and 9.5W when it is standing by.

In Australia, according to the Australian Greenhouse Office, standby power consumption amounts to 11.5% of total electricity usage in homes. It is currently costing householders $500 million each year and generates more carbon dioxide than a million cars. And what is more the proportion of standby power has been increasing by about 8 percent each year since 1994, despite improvements in standby power efficiency for televisions and VCRs during that time. The increase is because the number and variety of appliances using standby power is increasing as more products incorporate electronic controls, clocks and timers. Examples include washing machines, dishwashers and air conditioners.

Part of the problem is the requirement of consumers for convenience--not having to get up to turn things on and off or unplug them. But part of the problem also lies with manufacturers who want to minimise manufacturing costs rather than energy consumption, which they don't have to pay for.

According to the Building Energy Analysis Group at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, "most standby power is consumed by inefficient power supplies and unnecessarily energized components' Manufacturers could easily raise the efficiency of low-voltage transformers by substituting higher quality steel and other materials. In other cases they could eliminate the load entirely be moving the 'off' switch to the high-voltage side of the transformer."

Certainly there is a wide variety of electricity consumption in standby mode between different makes of the same consumer goods. One study found a range of 2 to 28W between different brands of CD player. Television sets can range from 1 W to 26W. Chargers for laptop computers range from 1 to 19W.

The Berkeley Laboratory estimates that with hardware and software changes "nearly all domestic appliances can be operated with a standby power requirement of less than 1 watt". An example is that a power supply controlled by a microchip could ensure power was only used when needed and this would cost less than a dollar extra. When Sony redesigned televisions to reduce standby consumption from 7 to 1W it found that it only cost $US1 per set.

In the US the federal government is required to buy only appliances that use no more than 1 W of energy in standby mode and in August this year, despite heavy opposition from consumer electronics lobbies, a bill was passed that required household appliances to meet the same standard within two years.

In Australia the National Appliance and Equipment Energy Efficiency Committee (NAEEEC) has recommended a voluntary 1W target. Also energy ratings will be modified to include standby electricity consumption in the calculations. However, this issue is too important to rely on consumer discretion to pressure manufacturers. The 1W target needs to be mandatory as in the US.

More Information:

Standby Power Home Page,

Australian Greenhouse Office,

A Latvian translation of this page by Arija Liepkalnietis can be found at

An Indonesian translation of this page can be found at