Significant energy savings possible with home electronic equipment, study finds

Madison, WI, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — June 15, 2010 – Making a one-time change to the power management setting on a home computer could save more than half of one month’s electric usage each year for the average residential electric customer, according to a new survey from the Energy Center of Wisconsin.

Further, average savings of 300 to 600 kWh per year per home could result by also manually unplugging devices that draw standby power when not in use, manually turning off devices that are left on but not used, using “smart” power strips to eliminate standby power consumption of peripherals when the main device is turned off, and using timers to eliminate electricity use by devices that are only used at certain times of the day.

The year-long survey, which was based on extensive metering and interview data for 50 homes across Minnesota, found that plug-in devices (excluding major appliances and lighting) consume an estimated 15 to 20 percent of the typical home’s electrical usage. Home electronics (televisions, computers and audio equipment, etc.) makes up about half this usage, while space heaters, dehumidifiers and other portable space conditioning makes up about another quarter.

Many of these devices use electricity all the time for functions such as display clocks and remote control response, with this “standby” consumption estimated at around 20 percent of the consumption of the devices, or about 4 percent of home electricity use.

“Home electronics is a growing portion of each household’s electricity usage,” commented Scott Pigg, co-principal author of the study. “We’re finding that these devices in total can use more electricity in one year than a major appliance, like a refrigerator. The difficulty is that this usage is spread over 30 to 40 devices in the average home.”

As recently as 1980 the average home had only three electronic devices.

The study found that the single most important opportunity for savings is computer power management, accounting for about 40 percent of the savings potential. With about two-thirds of the computers in the homes either left on all day or idle for long periods, and the majority not sleep/hibernate enabled, simply enabling sleep/hibernate mode could reduce the electricity use of these systems by about 50 percent. Further, many of the households were unaware that their computers were not configured optimally, although when advised there was a high level of willingness to implement the power management changes.

Other opportunities for consumers lie in turning off printers, space heaters, dehumidifiers and little-used entertainment devices, according to the study. However, consumers were more reluctant to unplug cable TV set-top boxes and satellite TV equipment, citing the complexity of these systems.

The Energy Center’s study is the first in the U.S. to examine usage data and consumer attitudes together, filling the gap from past studies that have examined either total usage or consumer attitudes.

“Up until now we didn’t have a good in-depth picture of how these appliances were used and what consumers were willing to turn off,” said Ingo Bensch, second co-principal author of the study. “By gathering energy data and pointing out usage that occurred when no one was using the devices, nearly every household expressed interest in making an easy change to reduce its energy use – a finding pointing the way for program opportunities for utilities.”