Standby Power Discussed Internationally

Standby power in appliances (previously known as "leaking electricity") was the topic at a recent workshop sponsored by the International Energy Agency in Paris, France. Eighty representatives from more than ten governments and many firms, plus other experts gathered to better understand the magnitude of the standby power problem and the opportunities to reduce it. This was the first official meeting convened specifically to address standby power.

The strongest conclusion of the meeting was that standby power is truly an international problem. The United States is often criticized in such meetings for being a disproportionately large electricity consumer, but European and Japanese homes use nearly as much standby power (Japan might use even more than the U.S.). Appliances with standby power ranged from the ordinary, such as TVs, VCRs and cordless phones, to the unique, such as the French "minitel" system, the Japanese rice cooker, and the Swedish TV cable splitter. All together, leaking electricity may be responsible for as much as 1% of global CO2 emissions (which is a lot!).

Several companies demonstrated new technologies to reduce standby power. The more efficient power supplies are a sure winner because millions are already being shipped. These new power supplies, such as those presented by Power Integrations, can cut no-load losses from 1-5 watts to about 0.25 watt. A German company, DIK, showed a clever device to fully switch off existing TVs, VCRs, and fax machines. Even though DIK's gadgets are cheap, they are really only cost-effective when applied to a device with high standby power (the present value of savings in electricity bills of a 1-watt saving is only about $4). Still, it shows that people are beginning to think about how to reduce standby power in both new and existing equipment.

Everybody agreed to disagree on the definition of standby power. The problem is that many new appliances have four, five, or as many as ten separate power modes, all of which could be considered "standby." Some participants wanted it defined in terms of function, that is, the power consumed by an appliance while not performing its primary purpose. Others wanted it defined in terms of the mode drawing the least amount of power while still plugged in. Both approaches have advantages and drawbacks. In the end, there appeared to be convergence towards a 2-tier definition by which standby power for simpler devices could be defined by minimum power use, while standby power for more complicated appliances would be defined by function. In any event, everybody agreed that internationally consistent definitions and test procedures were vital and should be pursued.

Another highlight was the "home tour" presentations, where the participants were able to visit homes in four different countries (Sweden, France, Japan, and the USA) and observe the number and standby power use of the appliances.

The workshop also demonstrated the importance and popularity of voluntary government-manufacturer partnerships to reduce energy use. The U.S. EPA's ENERGY STAR® - a concept less than ten years old - was constantly referred to as a model strategy to reduce standby power in major appliances. Indeed, ENERGY STAR® has become an international trendsetter and is now recognized in many countries.

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