Should you focus on phantom power losses?

This audio was created using Microsoft Azure Speech Services

The other day I was talking to an administrator who is quite concerned about the energy waste across the college campus he manages. The example he kept going back to was of a janitor’s closet where the light had been left on constantly. He is convinced that every classroom, closet, and dorm room needs occupancy sensors in order to prevent wasted energy.

It got me thinking: how often we walk around with blinders on and miss the big picture. One recent fad has been to crack down on “phantom” power loss: energy waste from electronic gadgets with adapters that continue to draw power even when not in use. Whole new markets of devices are sweeping store shelves, from power strips to smart chargers, and now even replacement electrical outlets that are designed to solve the problem of phantom power draw!

But how much does the average phone charger use in power, and what does that really cost? I decided to conduct a fairly unscientific experiment with a few web searches, a plugload meter, and my cell phone charger. From this rough study, I found consistent results. At $.12/kWh inTexas, that charger uses a little under two dollars in electricity if I left it plugged in all year. So, that makes it $4/year inCaliforniaand Puerto Rico and about $1.50/year inPennsylvania. Now I consider myself fairly energy-conscious since I get to focus on it all day every day, so I will continue to unplug my charger when I think about it. However, if we take just a moment to consider things, we still have much bigger areas where we need to keep vigilant in order to save energy and ultimately, measureable dollars.

So the question is: how can we avoid getting so focused that we loose sight of the real opportunity? That brings me to another customer of ours: Earth Rangers. If you don’t already know, Andy Schonberger is the Director, of Earth Rangers Centre for Sustainable Technology just outside ofToronto. His facility highlights a combination of some of the most energy efficient equipment and use of that equipment you will find anywhere. At the beginning of 2011, the facility was operating at 90% below code. In January, Andy announced that the facility had saved an additional 17% in 2011 over 2010.

When asked how this was accomplished, he pointed to his Energy Advanced energy monitoring system and explained. By having the building sufficiently sub-metered and layering on an intuitive visualization program, he was able to identify the largest remaining loads in the facility and focus there. As it turns out, it was the datacenter where efficient technologies like server virtualization had reduced the energy load of the equipment enough that the high efficiency UPS and HVAC systems serving the area became significantly oversized and were operating in the least-efficient manner possible. He also found opportunities for energy savings elsewhere in the facility. This information allowed the team at Earth Rangers to quickly see where they needed to focus daily and as a result they were able to make significant progress in a facility that many would claim held no more potential.

Smart power strips and phantom energy may deserve focus in your facilities and in your home, but take my advice: save your smart power strips for your larger appliances, such as TVs, stereos, and computers. Try to remember to unplug your chargers, but most of all, keep vigilant where it matters. Ensure your HVAC systems are running optimally and only when they are absolutely necessary. Reduce the schedules on this equipment in the spring and fall, and make sure the lights are turned off. If just one of these systems is forgotten for even a day, all of your savings from phantom energy reduction will be wiped out. This advice is not glamorous or new, but it works and can save thousands.

As Earth Rangers illustrates, it is possible to provide the right balance of measurement and simple, intuitive visualization. Combined with just a bit of motivation, anyone and everyone can be enabled to make an impact on the way our facilities operate, and in turn on our collective impact on the world around us.

If you are ready to begin making a difference to your bottom line and want to demonstrate your commitment to sustainability, you can visit our website to learn more about StruxureWare Energy Operation and other dashboard solutions, along with our energy management solutions including metering, education, behavior modification, and more to ramp up your own energy savings.

To learn more about the on-going efforts at Earth Rangers Centre, read Andy Schonberger’s blog posts.

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  • There are so many large household loads (like my PVR that wont shut off) that should be paid attention to before little milliamp loads like chargers.

    The arguments for all efficiency measures keeps getting better as energy costs increase. Earth Rangers pays almost $.14/kWh, and on time-of-day pricing, its worse. Conservation is cheaper than new generation!

  • Drew Gravitt

    12 years ago

    Really great information and insight about phantom loads Brandy. A great thermostat I use in Chicago to control my homes load is the NEST ( Heating and cooling your home can be well over half your energy bill. This product gives you much tighter control over your schedule and an easy to use interface that can be accessed anywhere via your smartphone or a computer. And it’s self-learning, so it knows when to set-up and set-back based on the changes you make over time. Lastly, it has several features that help save additional energy and it generates reports that show when the system was running and what impact it had on your bill.

    • Drew,

      I am familiar with that device and it certainly is a solid solution for management of home HVAC. As you tackle energy savings, you need to start with these large loads such as lighting, process and HVAC. Then once those are tackled, its best to re-evaluate the energy use. Often, those same loads will continue to be the largest loads so they merit further attention. The Nest is a great example. Because of the limitations of it’s smarts, it can actually create issues if you don’t maintain a regular schedule. The device learns your occupancy behaviors but may not always respond properly when you change those patterns. In these cases, you need to take special care to override the automatic reaction of the device manually either through the device itself such as its iPhone app or by layering other solutions that will further enhance its “smarts”. This example may be overkill for the home but can be applied to commercial and industrial spaces with significant impact.

      Thanks for reading.


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