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Standby Power FAQ

What is standby power?

Standby power is the power consumed by an appliance during the lowest possible electricity consuming mode. Our Standby Power Definition page provides a more detailed definition.

Why isn't it called leaking electricity anymore?

The term "leaking electricity" was technically incorrect. We used it because no "proper" term had been agreed upon. After much discussion, however, industry, government, and research organizations all agreed that they could live with the term "standby power" instead.

The term "leaking electricity" first appeared (as far as we know) in a paper presented by Eje Sandberg at a European conference in 1993. (Sandberg, Eje. 1993. "Electronic Home Equipment — Leaking Electricity." In The Energy Efficiency Challenge for Europe. Rungstedgard, Denmark: European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.) For comparison, the literal translation of the Japanese term for standby power is "waiting appliance electricity", while the translation of the French is "electricity used while an appliance is sleeping at its post".

Which appliances consume standby power and how much?

Clockwise: An external power supply, remote control, and clock display.

Anything with an external power supply (wallpack), remote control, or clock display require standby electricity. Some of the most common products are TVs, VCRs, cable boxes, stereo systems, and telephone answering machines. Our Data page presents measured standby power use of these and other domestic appliances.

In most countries, TVs and VCRs have the greatest total standby energy consumption.If you inspect your home and tally up the appliances, you may be surprised how many appliances use electricity all the time. And the appliances we focus on represent only a small fraction of those that exist. From remote control dog doors to automatic plant feeders, the opportunities for using standby power are nearly limitless. To get an idea of just how many appliances with standby power use are currently manufactured, check out some of the products featured at Smarthome.com.

How do I measure standby power?

To measure standby power accurately, you will need a suitable power meter. Unfortunately, few meters have sufficient resolution to measure standby power accurately. In addition, appropriate meters are not cheap. If you are still interested in buying a safe and accurate meter, try looking at a few of these vendors. For those of you that can't afford an expensive meter, here are two simple ways to measure standby power use in your home.

Is standby power use necessary?

Although appliances require some electricity for standby functions, most standby power is consumed by inefficient power supplies and unnecessarily energized components. This is mainly because appliance manufacturers have no reason to design their products with efficiency in mind — after all, they don't pay your electricity bill! Some important appliance functions that do require small amounts of electricity include:

  • Maintaining signal reception capability (for remote control, telephone or network signal)
  • Monitoring temperature or other conditions (such as in a refrigerator)
  • Powering an internal clock
  • Battery charging
  • Continuous display

From a hardware point of view, there are only two common contributors to standby power use: low-voltage power supplies and DC circuitry (including sensors and displays). For more information about appliance components and their relationship to standby power use, see our Technologies to Reduce Standby Power Consumption page.

How much power is used for standby in the US?...Worldwide?

Nobody knows for sure, but here is a table of national standby power estimates for several countries. Current estimates indicate that standby power use in the U.S. accounts for about 5% of residential electricity use, implying that residential consumers in the U.S. spend over 4 billion dollars on standby power every year. In Japan, Germany and the Netherlands,standby power comprises 10 to 15 percent of total residential electricity use.

Is standby growing or shrinking?

In spite of highly successful voluntary programs directed mainly at TVs and VCRs, overall standby use is probably still growing. The number of new appliances with electronic controls continues to grow rapidly. Based on international trends, we expect electronic controls to be incorporated into many "white goods" — such as refrigerators,dishwashers, and air conditioners — within the next ten years.

Can standby power consumption be reduced?

We estimate that a 75% reduction is possible in new equipment. The savings can be achieved through improvements in (1) hardware, such as power supplies,IC chips and I/O components, and (2) software, with the implementation of more efficient power management. In an effort to help manufacturers reduce standby power consumption in their products, we've compiled a list of technologies presently available on our design help page. We believe that nearly all domestic appliances can be designed to serve standby functions using no more than one quarter of what they presently use.

The material found on this page is considered archival. Please visit http://standby.lbl.gov for the most recent information about Standby Power.