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Standby energy: how much electricity do your devices use when they’re sleeping?

By Aimee Tweedale Wednesday 05 May 2021

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 be paying around £35 a year for devices you’re not actually using1!

Vampire power: a woman watches TV on her laptop

Switching things off at the plug can not only save you money, but also reduce your carbon footprint. Keep reading to find out more about which devices you need to keep an eye on. 

What does standby mode mean?

When your electric devices are on standby, it means they go into a kind of sleep. 

They’re not actually off, but they’re powered down into an energy-saving mode while not in use. This means that you can turn them back on quickly when you need them. 

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 even 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.

Why do we need to slay vampire power? Because it’s adding onto your electricity bills when you’re not looking. Not to mention, it’s making your house less energy-efficient, and harming the environment. 

Read our top 14 ways to reduce your electricity use and cut down your energy bills even further.

Which devices use the most energy on standby mode?

Got your garlic and holy water? It’s time to check the house for vampires.

Of course, there are some appliances that you need to leave switched on all the time. Things like your fridge-freezer, landline phone, and thermostat need constant power to function. You might not be able to turn those off at the plug, but there are plenty of ways of using them more efficiently. 

Check out our guides to learn more:

When it comes to electricity waste, these are some of the biggest vampire culprits.

Games consoles

Consoles are all fun and games, until you get your electricity bills. 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 fight this vampire is to drive a stake through – sorry, we mean, to turn the plug off at the wall! 

If turning it off at the wall is tricky, there’s another way. Most consoles have an ‘energy saving mode’, which 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). 

Vampire power: a person watching TV at home

TVs

We all remember our parents telling us to switch the TV off when we were kids, as old TVs were notorious for guzzling electricity. But the good news is that newer TVs, despite being bigger and flashier, 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?

These days, the amount of power your TV uses in general is much lower than it used to be. A few years ago, TVs accounted for 50% of electricity used by electronics around the house. Today, that figure is more like 33%2.

Since 2013, the European Commission has ruled that TVs must not use more than half a watt of power while in standby mode3

Testing by Which? in 2014 found that an LED HD TV left on standby for 19 hours would use only 0.22 watts during that time. Assuming that was repeated for 365 days, your TV would only use 80.3 watts over the course of the year while in standby. 

How much would that cost you per year? On OVO’s Simpler Energy tariff, it’d be about a measly 25p. 

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. Make sure it’s fully updated, before you start shopping for a new TV!

Speakers and radios

Even when they’re not making a sound, your speakers could be costing you money. 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 use4.

Want to cut down your energy bills even further? With OVO, you’ll get 100% renewable electricityat competitive prices. Get a quote and find out how much you could save today.

Mobile phone and tablet chargers

It’s a commonly debated question: if you leave your phone charger plugged in, does it use electricity?

The answer is, unfortunately, yes. It’s a small but important thing to watch out for. Since our handheld devices have become so important in day-to-day life, many of us are in the habit of leaving chargers constantly plugged in. 

The good news is that if you 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.

But be warned: if you regularly charge your mobile phone overnight, you could be wasting more energy. Once your phone is fully charged (which usually takes a couple of hours), the charger will keep using the same amount of electricity as long as your phone is plugged in, even if its battery’s full.

Perhaps you could try charging your phone in the daytime instead – or while you’re making dinner at night. It’ll give you a good excuse to cut down on your screen time, too!

Computers

When your computer’s 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 that6. Like mobile phones, they should always be unplugged when they’re fully charged. 

Kitchen appliances

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)7. Anything with an LED light or screen that stays on permanently will use up more power. 

Even leaving your toaster and kettle plugged in uses electricity. It’s a very small amount, but when it comes to saving energy, every little helps. 

Read more about how to save energy (and money!) in the kitchen

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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 small8

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 get the kids to remember to turn off their consoles? Here are a few ways to make it easier for them:

  • 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!

  • Make it a part of your routine: the whole family can join with with a nightly ritual of switching things off, if you make it a key part of your bedtime routine

  • 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 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. You could also try adding more appliances, by using a multi-socket adapter or extension lead.

They can cost from £5 up to £40 (but make sure you look out for fakes!). 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, don’t expect big financial returns: it could take 15 years to earn back the cost of a £20 standby saver9.

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 emissions10. 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. With better technology available, lots of our devices are far more energy-efficient11

Still, even though our individual appliances are less electricity-hungry, we have more of them than ever. Plus, thanks to their “smart” capabilities, we’re leaving them switched on for longer. And standby power adds up to a bigger issue, when you think of the millions of idle electronics sitting in houses across the country. 

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

Vampire power: woman in kitchen with smart meter

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 greedy 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. Plus, you’ll get:

  • 100% renewable electricity as standard12

  • A tree planted in your name for every year you’re with us13

  • Access to OVO Greenlight: free energy-saving tips

  • 3-5% Interest Rewards when your account has a positive balance14

  • A £50 gift card every time you introduce a friend to us

  • Customer service rated “Excellent” on Trustpilot

Ready to save money and cut carbon emissions? Get a quote in less than 2 minutes via the link below.

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Sources and references:

1 https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/hub/quick-tips-to-save-energy/

2 https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/tvs-are-electricity-guzzlers-you-need-see-bigger-picture/

3 https://ec.europa.eu/info/energy-climate-change-environment/standards-tools-and-labels/products-labelling-rules-and-requirements/energy-label-and-ecodesign/energy-efficient-products/mode-standby-and-networked-standby_en

4 https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/bills/article-7629985/How-leaving-games-consoles-standby-cost-UK-231m-year.html

5 100% of the renewable electricity we sell is backed by renewable certificates (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates (REGOs)). See here for details on Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates and how these work. A proportion of the electricity we sell is also purchased directly from renewable generators in the UK.

6 https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/bills/article-7629985/How-leaving-games-consoles-standby-cost-UK-231m-year.html

7 https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/bills/article-7629985/How-leaving-games-consoles-standby-cost-UK-231m-year.html

8 https://lookaftermybills.com/blog/should-you-turn-plugs-off-at-the-wall-to-save/

9 https://www.sust-it.net/blog/are-standby-savers-a-waste-of-cash/

10 https://www.thenationalnews.com/arts-culture/the-environmental-cost-of-standby-mode-why-leaving-our-devices-on-idle-is-no-better-than-leaving-them-on-1.921019

11 https://www.iea-4e.org/wp-content/uploads/publications/2017/06/07d_-_Meier_-_Standzero.pdf

12 100% of the renewable electricity we sell is backed by renewable certificates (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates (REGOs)). See here for details on Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates and how these work. A proportion of the electricity we sell is also purchased directly from renewable generators in the UK.

13 Each year, OVO plants 1 tree for every member in partnership with the Woodland Trust. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so tree-planting helps to slow down climate change.

14 Interest Rewards are paid on positive balances of customers paying by monthly Direct Debit. It is calculated at 3% in your first year, 4% in your second year and 5% in your third year (and every year thereafter) if you pay by Direct Debit.