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The Secret Waste of Electricity

 © 2009-2014
Christian Bachmann

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Results of the research project «Stand-by losses of office and consumer electronics equipment», Swiss Federal Office of Energy, 3003 Bern, January 1993

In this study the energy losses of the most common office and consumer electronics equipment were analysed. It was initiated by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy and carried out by an interdisciplinary team in 1991 and 1992.

The research team examined the following categories of equipment:

  • office equipment
  • computers, monitors, printers, photocopiers, telefaxes, switchboards
  • consumer electronics
  • video equipment (TV and video recorders), audio equipment (radio, hifi-stereo sets), power supplies
The energy losses in stand-by (when the machine is ready for operation) were projected by using current results and plausible assumptions concerning usage of the equipment.

The annual stand-by losses of all the equipment which was tested amount to 900 million kWh according to this projection - almost 2% of the total power consumption in Switzerland in 1990. Office equipment accounts for slighty more than half of the stand-by losses.

Detailed measurements on various types of equipment showed that the power consumption in the stand-by mode in most cases was considerably higher than would be necessary to secure safe operational readiness. In many cases components which have no function in the stand-by mode are nonetheless supplied with current.

Stand-by losses can often be reduced to a few percent of the presently common values by improving the technology of monitors, printers and photocopiers. However, a survey showed that manufacturers and distributors do not attach much attention to power consumption and therefore exploit the potential for improvement with hesitation and only in individual cases.

If modern equipment is switched on and off sensibly, life cycle is influenced only to a minor degree. Even frequent switching operations are unlikely to shorten the life cycle if the necessary technical modifications are made. Most devices can be developed to be suitable for systematic on/off operation or for automatic power management.

Two independent project teams looked into the question of how design could lead users to an energy conscious behaviour. The results show that design has not yet received the attention it deserves.

Based on this study various legislative measures are presently being worked out. These should entail the following steps:

  • standardized testing procedures
  • declaration of the energy or stand-by consumption
  • minimum demands concerning power consumption

© Christian Bachmann