Standby energy: how much electricity do your devices use when they’re sleeping?
01 December 2021 | Aimee Tweedale
Did you know that your electronic devices are still using electricity, even when they’re in standby mode?
The Energy Saving Trust estimates that you could save around £40 a year by turning off devices you’re not using1.
Switching things off at the plug could not only save power and reduce your carbon footprint. Keep reading to find out more about which devices to keep an eye on.
What does standby mode mean?
When your electric devices are on standby, it means they go into a type of sleep.
They’re not actually off – they’re powered down into an energy saving mode while not in use. This lets you turn things back on quickly when you need to. But it also means the devices are still using energy when you might not want them to.
What is vampire power?
Vampire power or vampire energy (sometimes called phantom power) is a name for the electricity that flows into your devices when you’re not actually using them.
Did you know that your computer is using power even when it’s in standby mode? And your mobile phone charger is using electricity when you leave it plugged in after your phone has finished charging? That’s vampire power.
It’s a sneaky source of energy use, because you might not realise that devices are using power when they appear to be idle.
Of course, there are some appliances that you need to leave switched on all the time. Things like your fridge-freezer and landline phone need constant power to function. Here are some tips on making your fridge freezer more efficient.
Which devices use the most energy in standby mode?\ \ When it comes to electricity waste, here are some of the biggest culprits. And whilst the amount of energy they each use on standby might not seem like a lot, it can quickly add up.
They’re known to be one of the worst energy vampires, as their ‘standby’ mode uses power to detect software updates and input from voice commands or remote controls.
Research from Confused.com for This is Money found that consoles cost UK households a combined total of £231million per year in standby mode.
The best way to stop this is by turning the plug off at the wall, but if that’s a problem then most consoles have an ‘energy saving mode’. This will stop the device from doing things like checking for updates or messages while it’s on standby. Check your console’s instruction manual to find out how to activate this (usually by adjusting your settings).
Old TVs were notorious for using lots of electricity. But newer TVs, despite being bigger, tend to be less power-hungry than their older counterparts. In fact, according to the Centre for Sustainable Energy, today they’re one of the most efficient household devices.
Still, TVs do use a little vampire energy when they’re on standby, so it’s always best to switch them off at the wall when they’re not in use. Like consoles, they might also have an ‘energy-saving mode’. Check your TV manual to find out more about this.
How much electricity does a TV use on standby?
Since 2013, the European Commission has ruled that TVs must not use more than half a watt of power while in standby mode2.
Testing by Which? in 2014 found that an LED HD TV left on standby for 19 hours would use 0.22 watts during that time. Assuming that was repeated for 365 days, your TV would use 80.3 watts over the course of the year while on standby.
Does turning a TV off at the wall damage it?
Switching a TV off at the plug will not damage it. But lots of newer TVs get software updates while they’re on standby overnight. If yours misses these updates, it could start to work more slowly, making it seem like it’s faulty. If you’re about to replace a TV like that, it’s worth double checking it’s fully up-to-date first.
Speakers and radios
Even when they’re not making a sound, speakers could be using energy. This is Money estimates that the average UK household spends about £5.93 powering speakers, and £2.83 powering smart home devices (including smart speakers) per year. And it also costs £1.44 to power a digital radio each year, when it’s not in use3.
Mobile phone and tablet chargers
If you leave a phone charger plugged in, it continues to use electricity - but if you only leave the charger plugged into the wall without your phone (or other device) attached, the amount of electricity it uses will be tiny. So tiny, in fact, it can barely be measured on an energy monitor.
However, if you keep your phone plugged into the charger after its battery is full, you could be using more energy than you need to. Because the charger will keep using the same amount of electricity as long as your phone is plugged into it – whether the battery is full or not.
When your computer is left plugged into the wall, it still uses power, even if you’ve logged off for the day.
PC monitors use a comparable amount to TVs on standby – not usually more than half a watt. (To put that in perspective, using 0.5 watts continuously for a whole year would cost you about 70p.)
Laptops left plugged in on standby mode use about double that4. And, like mobile phones, they should always be unplugged when they’re fully charged.
Some of the biggest energy wasters in your kitchen include the microwave (which uses about 3 watts when not in use) and the coffee maker (0.5 watts)4. Anything with an LED light or screen that stays on permanently will use up more power.
Read more about how to save energy in the kitchen
Should I turn plugs off at the wall?
If you want to make sure all your devices are switched off – not on standby and not using vampire power – then turning them off at the plug is the best bet.
Plugs with unconnected chargers will use a little power, but the amount is very small5.
If there’s nothing plugged into a plug socket, then it won’t use any electricity, even if it’s switched on.
How can I make it easier for my family to remember to switch things off?
Struggling to remember to switch off? Here are a few ways to make it easier:
- Use plug extension strips: plugging several devices into one extension strip can make it easier to remember to switch things off – this way, you only have to hit one switch!
- Standby savers: sometimes called energy saving plugs, these devices are designed to help you remember to switch things off at the wall. But are they actually worth it? Read on...
What are standby savers, and will they save me money?
Standby savers, or smart plugs, are devices that allow you to turn off multiple devices at once, with a remote control. The idea is that this makes it much easier to switch everything off when you’re rushing out the front door, or to bed.
The standby saver is plugged into the socket, and then you plug your appliance into it.
They can cost from £5 up to £40. Whether or not they will save you money is disputed. Standby savers themselves use a small amount of electricity (about 86p worth per year).
So, while they may make life a bit easier, they won’t bring big financial returns: it could take 15 years to earn back the cost of a £20 standby saver6.
How vampire power hurts the environment
Back in 2007, the International Energy Agency estimated that standby mode was responsible for about 1% of global carbon emissions7. But since this stat was released, there have been lots of changes.
The electricity grid we have today is much less carbon intensive than it was all those years ago. Plus, the One Watt Initiative, launched in 1999, has successfully campaigned to reduce standby power to less than 0.5 watts in many appliances.
Still, even though our individual appliances are less electricity-hungry, we have more of them than ever. And, because of their “smart” capabilities, we’re leaving them switched on for longer.
By taking a pledge to unplug your devices when they’re not in use, you could make a difference, by contributing to a movement that’s taking on this challenge.
For more tips on saving electricity to save the planet, check out our guides on the top 14 ways to save electricity at home, and 7 ways to reduce your carbon footprint at home.
Find out exactly how much electricity you’re using with a smart meter
Smart meters are clever tools, because they tell you exactly how much power you’re using. They measure your energy use, and share this information with you via your In-Home Display. This helps you figure out which devices are using the most power – which can save you money.
If you’re interested in cutting the carbon footprint of your home, consider switching to OVO. We’ll install a smart meter at your home for free.
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