Wasted Energy from Household Electronic Devices

In a tech savvy world where electronics are part of nearly every aspect of modern life, society has become increasing energy-conscious when it comes to powering off to conserve as much energy as possible. But what if people learned that their devices are still energy vacuums when they are not in use? Unplugging household electronic devices can save small amounts of energy per household, which adds up to substantial quantities if the entire country adapted these good practices. The goal of this task is to determine exactly how many watts of energy would be saved in the average American household if the owners unplugged their devices when not in use.

According to a study conducted by the National Resources Defense Council in 2015 it was estimated that there are about 65 devices in the average American home, with an average of 53 plugged in devices and about 12 permanently connected devices such as furnaces. The vast majority of these devices are constantly consuming energy, even when they are thought to be turned off. The EPA has made large efforts to helps consumers make environmentally and energy conscious decisions by providing them with the most information possible about the most “green” products on the market today. Not all energy consumption should be treated equally and not all models of products are on a level playing field as well. For example, one of the products from Energy Star’s 2017 list of the most efficient washers is a large Samsung front load washer (model WF45M51**A*). Energy Star estimates that if the average household does approximately 6 loads of laundry per week, or about 295 loads per year, the average sized load of laundry is expected to use 80 kWh of energy per year. Other less efficient washers can used anywhere from 500 to 1300 watts. For the purposes of this comparison, an average, not very efficient washer may use 900 watts. If the same household did about 6 loads of laundry per week, or about 295 loads per year, they would use roughly 131 kWh of energy per year. One household alone could save about 50 kWh of energy per year, and when multiplied by approximately 126 million U.S. households, that is an estimate of \[ 6.5 \times 10^9 \text{ kWh of energy saved in a single year}\] This shows that the efficiency of a washing machine model makes a bigger impact that unplugging it ever would.

Although saving significant quantities of energy may be a big enough incentive for some people to start practicing eco-friendly behaviors, other might need a monetary enticement for their practices to seem worthwhile. According to the National Resources Defense Council issue paper of 2015, “always-on energy use by inactive devices translates to approximately $19 billion a year—about $165 per U.S. household on average—and 50 large (500-megawatt) powerplants’ worth of electricity”. Using 2015 census information of about 117 million U.S. households, it is approximated that \[117 \text{ million households} \times \ $165 \text{ per household on average} \approx $19 \text{ billion}\] The survey conducted in Northern California by The Natural Resource Defense Council found that idle electricity accounted for a significant 23% of total household energy consumption. Huge fractions of energy like this should make communities and the country as a whole want to step back and reflect on where they are going wrong in energy consumption.

You may be wondering how it is possible that so much energy is going to waste. We live in a society where people want their things to be ready to use instantaneously at the touch of their fingers. This has resulted in the development of many items having the option of “standby” mode or putting an item to “sleep,” but not shutting down. These different modes still draw power even when they are completely inactive. This type of energy consumption does not affect the consumer whatsoever, but rather adds to the large total of 1,375 billion kilowatt-hours used in U.S. homes annually, amounting to 15% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. If the majority of U.S. households made an effort to “fully turn off devices, unplug, and avoid using standby mode when devices are not in use, it would save users a total of $8 billion on their utility bills annually, 64 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity use per year, and prevent 44 million metric tons of CO2 emissions from being put into the atmosphere.” In one year alone this is a substantial amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere, so it is amazing to think how humans have the power to change the direction of the planet’s climate by collectively practicing good electronic habits.

It is important to note that not all energy consumption should be weighted equally. Consumer electronics, such as TVs, computers, printers, and gaming consoles accounted for more than half of all wasted household energy. Other electronics account for far less energy. The “Mathematics for Sustainability” textbook notes how misleading multiplication can lead people to draw conclusions about adding together very many small quantities to get what seems like a substantial amount of something (Mathematics 61). The notion that “if everyone unplugged their cell phone charger when not in use, there would be enough extra electricity to power half a million homes,” is misleading because the percent of energy saved is extremely minimal per household, but can seem substantial on a national scale. \[ \frac {500,000}{130,000,000} \times 100 \text{ percent} = \text{ only } 0.4 \text{ percent of American household energy use}\] This is not to say that small actions do not add up, but some have a bigger impact than others.

It is important to be aware of the large amount of energy that is wasted from keeping electronics on standby versus completely powered off. Much of the progress that is taking place to improve efficiency is through the manufacturer. Groups like Energy Star help promote environmentally advantageous products to the consumer while encouraging manufacturers to advance in their technology as well. We are living in a time where there more options for clothes washers, dishwashers, fridges, and TVs than ever, so the consumer has the option to choose the most efficient products on the market. The more people are aware of ways to curb energy use, the better people can reduce the amount of energy wasted, money spent, and CO2 emissions that result from energy being drained from electronics in idle mode.









The Mathematics for Sustainability online textbook by John Roe, Russell deForest, Sara Jamshidi




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3 Responses to Wasted Energy from Household Electronic Devices

  1. hzw5186 says:

    I also did my Write and Respond on this topic and I think you covered a lot of the main points with well thought out conclusions and observations. It was very clear regarding which side of the argument you were on when looking at energy usage. There was no back and forth, which is something I found difficult when writing my essay. After reading through your essay, one thing that was very helpful was when you described Energy Star. This is something that could help readers understand their options of different ways to save energy with their appliances. Personally, most people I know are not aware of these appliances. Another strong section of your essay was when you went into detail about how energy is actually being wasted. It is helpful for readers to understand this process and where their wasteful energy could lie.

    To help make your essay even stronger, perhaps you could go into more detail about the financial issues dealing with vampire energy. I know you mentioned it some, but maybe you could discuss what devices cost the most through energy use and compare the prices spent each year on wasted energy to simply buying energy efficient appliances. Expressing financial strain is definitely something people can relate to and understand better when discussing wasteful energy.

    Overall, you covered a lot of ground of this topic and I think you expressed your ideas and conclusions well.

  2. zwl5178 says:

    Well done. I actually learned something from this post. I didn’t know inactive electronic devices are still using energy when they are plugged in. I like how you included the amount of money we can save on electricity bills and the amount of carbon dioxide could be stopped from releasing into the atmosphere. This kind of information will put people in action because it affects them personally. Who doesn’t want to save money and help the environment right?
    It would be better if you include a list of energy usage of each household device, like TV, dishwasher, dryer, etc. I personally would be really interested in that information.

  3. gcg5081 says:

    This was so interesting to read! I am SUCH a terrible example of someone who leaves all of their electronics plugged in; at any one time, I might have three phone chargers plugged in just because I keep forgetting about the previous ones. Even though the intent is there to unplug each of my electronics, I forget and I’ve always misjudged the amount of energy that is being used and consumed even when I am not using them. I was shocked to find out how much energy is constantly being consumed just by washing machines, as well. Now, of course, I feel terrible about my electricity-use habits! Although the numbers might seem minute on their own, if everyone is conscious about their electricity usage and unplugging their devices, as you stated, then those numbers could truly add up to make a difference. All of your information was presented in an informative and comprehensive manner that is easy to understand for someone who knows nothing about the topic, such as me! I really feel I learned something, and I will definitely try to make a conscious effort to unplug all of my electronics when I am not using them in the future! One thing I would have liked to learn from this essay would be the inclusion of the specific devices that retain energy when plugged in, so as to know which ones are the primary offenders in consuming energy when plugged in. Great job!

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