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back to article War On Standby: Do the figures actually stack up?

The War On Standby rumbles on: this week, courtesy of the UK government and "third sector" quangocracy, we heard yet again that gadgets left on standby suck vast, planet-wrecking, expensive amounts of energy from our electricity sockets. It's an idea which has gained a lot of traction over the years. Many Reg readers (and hacks …

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annoying

my partner is always telling me to switch stuff off at the wall... last year we were given one of those automatic power off bricks that cuts off mains to your devices when it detects they're not in use, which she fitted to the TV

Unfortunately due to the crap design, the surges this thing introduced zapped my £500 telly within 2 weeks of use!

She got the hump when I told her that she could save 100s of times more leccy by not having the shower running 5 minutes before she gets in it.. "oh but I like it to be warm before I get in"

damn do-gooding-lacking-in-braincells-econutters!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: annoying

'She got the hump when I told her that she could save 100s of times more leccy by not having the shower running 5 minutes before she gets in it.. "oh but I like it to be warm before I get in"'

Even if the 47W standby is true then it pales into insignificance when compared with a shower at 10kW ... and those 5 mins waiting "for it to be warm" use about the same as the 47W standby do in a day. Remember a year or two back in some serious discussion on radio/TV about how people could reduce their carbon footprint someone pointed out that the most effective method would be for everyone to take one less shower/bath a week!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: annoying

No special hugs for you then!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: annoying

Even at 10kw it's probably cheaper than filling a bath - boiling water on demand is often more efficient than having a hot water tank - so your 'bath' could cost even more.

47w does not sound that bad - but x24 hours is about 1kw - so about 10p - so about £36 a year x 5 year = £180.

I bought a small remote switch that turns the lot on - stick the controller on the wall as you come in the lounge - consumes less than 0.5w itself and was saving me over 150w with Sky box, TV, Apple TV, surround amp, etc. etc. So my saving could be up to 3x as much - i.e. £540 saved over 5 years for £10 cost. It's not 'quite' that much as sometimes people leave it on and it's on when we are using it - but that means more like 5-6 hours a day rather than 24 hours - conservatively probably saves around £400 over 5 years.

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Re: annoying

Hope you've got that lot on a surge protector on that lot.. those remote switches introduce a surge every time they switch something on. A lot of modern equipment isn't designed to take the surges.

and remember surge protectors don't last forever, they get damaged by the surges as well. In the case of our telly it saved us a couple of quid in electric while it was working, but cost us £500 for a new telly!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: annoying

The shower thing only works when you consider electric showers, but those of us who have immersion heaters don't save much by loosing those few minutes as we heat our water at night, when there is plenty of excess energy.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: annoying

the most effective method would be for everyone to take one less shower/bath a week!

So you're the guy who stinks up London Underground then..

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Silver badge

Re: annoying

I understand that's more of a collective effort.

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Mushroom

Remember that these switches are themselves in standby!

They're cheap, and have much lower-quality PSUs than TVs etc.

So how much power do they consume themselves? It is likely that some of them actually draw more power in their own standby than your TV does, and all of them will increase the power consumption when your TV is on.

The only one I could find that gave consumption values was a US version, and it said 0.08W in standby, and 0.50W when on. Let's assume a UK version is the same (it's probably worse due to the higher voltage)

My Plasma TV is specified to draw 0.30W in standby, thus I would save 0.22W when my TV is off, and cost 0.50W when my TV is on.

This means that simply to break even, my TV has to be off for 2.3 times as long as it is on.

Now take a look at a modern LED TV. Oh dear, 0.1W in standby.

That's before you consider the damage the SSR (solid-state-relay) -based ones will do to your delicate electronics.

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Devil

Re: annoying

Do you SERIOUSLY think that having one less shower/bath a week is enough to cause a person to "stink up the underground". This would only be the case if that person already had only about two showers or baths a week - most people shower or bath much more often than they need to in order to stay clean and stink-free. Unless they have a body odour problem, but that's not most people...

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FAIL

Re: Remember that these switches are themselves in standby!

From my experimental evidence, the timer switch I got from china (via a popular tat bazaar..) for a fiver seems to use between 0.08W and 0.12W over the course of a week. Why would a higher voltage imply higher power usage in standby? The device I have doesn't use solid state relays based on the mechanical clicks it makes when it switches, but presumably you are talking about leakage currents from solid state relays? if so what damage do you think this will do to your device? I would imagine surges would be more of a problem, but these are less of a problem with SSR's as they switch more reliably and quickly?

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Boffin

Re: Remember that these switches are themselves in standby!

The problems occur when the device is switched when the mains is not on its zero crossing point, this leads to the surge currents discussed earlier. Only SSR's and other solid state devices allow this to be done accurately/reliably as mechanical relays are quite variable in their timing

So it entirely depends on the device and its design.. but the rule of thumb is you get what you pay for (i.e. don't use a cheap device on your £500 telly!)

and all of these devices will consume some kind of power (relay or SSR based), as they need some kind of active elements to look for the signals from the remote control to switch the TV back on. I'm not in the least bit surpised that this power can be as much as the TV's own standby current

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Anonymous Coward

Re: annoying

My advice? Upgrade your partner. She doesn't sound very energy efficient.

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@AC 1328hrs - Re: annoying

Wrote " Even at 10kw it's probably cheaper than filling a bath - boiling water on demand is often more efficient than having a hot water tank - so your 'bath' could cost even more"

Depends how you have a bath. "FILL" a bath? I bath in about 4 inches of water, I kneel in it.

OTOH, my boss noticed that his teenage daughter's showers lasted for ages, so he timed her by the sound of it. Afterwards (by testing himself for that time with the bath plug in) he found it was enough to fill the bath to overflowing. He pulled the shower fuse after that.

There is also a cultural difference. I am of a generation that was brought up to have a bath once a week, plus a shower in the pavillion after sports. Now however I know people who think it normal to have two, three or even four showers every day. It is too convenient to have a shower.

As for hot water on demand, I have a washbasin heater like that. Often, after running hot for 5 seconds, it will decide I've had enough hot water and switch off the heat, making the water too cold to use - so that water and electricity is wasted.

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@Horsham_sparky

"Zero-cross" switching is irrelevant, it's almost exclusively a marketing thing. It has no bearing on device reliability or whether or not it'll damage the telly. It merely reduces EMI switching noise - which is a good thing if you've got a lot of them, otherwise irrelevant.

- Consider a 3-pin-plug or the switch on the socket. Does that do zero-cross detect? Does the act of plugging in a TV damage it?

AC SSRs are actually a pair of back-to-back SCRs or a Triac, just like a dimmer. This means that the waveform they produce is not sinusoidal (both due to being non-resistive and having a recovery time during zero cross) and that they never fully "turn off" - there is always a small leakage current through the SSR. There is also a notable insertion loss (fixed voltage drop) which makes them rather inefficient compared to a relay.

Many power supplies can be damaged by these effects - continually feeding it a small current that's not enough to start it and making the zero-cross point fuzzy are both bad things to do to a power supply. Switch-mode PSUs also draw their current in 'pulses', which means the SSR may not actually stay turned on throughout the cycle and may 'starve' the SMP. (This has all kinds of strange effects)

Put simply, you need a physical relay contact that goes "click", because that's what the PSU in your equipment was designed for.

The best is a physically latching one as then no power is consumed keeping the relay "on" - this is impossible to do with SSRs as they must be powered to turn on. Thus relay-based ones can be considerably more efficient than SSR ones.

That's assuming you even come out ahead in the first place - if you have multiple items on the switch then it might be worth it, but just a TV is almost certainly pointless.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: annoying

I can honestly say I only have a shower every two days, and have no complaints so far. Every two days is fine, as long as you're not running around getting sweaty of course.

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Re: annoying

That's right - and new models are available on a continuing basis, so you may find it most economical to upgrade every year or two since the newer versions will come with more modern soft-ware (or maybe firm -ware is more appropriate?) and won't become obsolete so quickly.

Of course it might be more expensive in the long-run, and disposable of the previous model needs to be handle carefully, but the efficiency gains should be an on-going bonus.

Oh - I can see this idea running! :-)

ttfn

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Anonymous Coward

Re: annoying @misotonic

I doubt he does seriously think that. That's called HUMOUR. You should be careful, there's quite a lot of it around here.

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Happy

Re: annoying

"the most effective method would be for everyone to take one less shower/bath a week!"

No.

The most effective method would be sharing...

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Nah, just put *her* on standby

Switch her on when there's nothing on telly.

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Re: @AC 1328hrs - annoying

Instantaneous water heaters may be good for providing full flow hot water on demand, but in my experience, they don't like providing low flow rates- they tend to overhead and switch off to protect themselves.

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FAIL

Apple TV, there's your problem...

The original Apple TV calls standy-by turning off the video circuitry, the processor and hard disk still work full tilt in stand-by mode!

The only way to really stand-by the darned thing is to yank the plug out the back!

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A bit low...

Because I have computer gear on at home 24/7, my standing load is about 650W. It used to be around 900W but the wonders of virtual machines and swapping one bit of hardware for something more efficient has brought that down.

It confuses the hell out of my electricity supplier, who has never managed to estimate my annual consumption because they seem to assume a certain ratio between summer and winter and that doesn't hold true for my house. Of course, random firings of a 7kW kiln also spike the results, so I'm afraid I've long given up worrying about the odd ten watts or so.

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Re: A bit low...

Sounds as if you've a smart meter. I'd nuke it if I were you.

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Thumb Up

Re: A bit low...

I confused the crap out of mine by installing a log burner....

The gas consumption hardly went up during the winter and they had to send me a cheque for £300 :p

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Headmaster

Re: A bit low...

"they had to send me a cheque for £300 :p"

"I had given them an interest free loan of £300 :("

Fixed that for you.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A bit low...

Except for the cost of the logs or splitter and log burner itself (which could have been 1-2k+) - I'm all for it but it's not without cost (even if that is time).

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Re: A bit low...

@AnonymousCoward - Why be so negative? Log burners are great unless you are a total slob who can't be bothered to do anything worthwhile.

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@ misotonic - Re: A bit low...

Wrote "@AnonymousCoward - Why be so negative? Log burners are great unless you are a total slob who can't be bothered to do anything worthwhile."

Why are you so negative about AnonymousCoward? The guy is only pointing out that logs cost money. They also cost the environment - chopping down trees (the very icon of "greeness") to turn them into smoke and CO2.

And what do you mean by "worthwhile"?

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Re: @ misotonic - A bit low...

Log burners are much closer to carbon neutral than, say, mains powered heating.

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Happy

Re: @ misotonic - A bit low...

...and as the French say; logs heat you twice, once when you cut them, and once when you burn them. Splitting logs is also one of the most therapeutic pastimes I know.

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Flame

The tyranny of "Every little helps"

I wholly agree with Lewis. Trying to modify human behaviour to make an insignificant difference in overall consumption is counter-productive. Basing that on shoddy fieldwork is inexcusable.

It's the same with plastic carrier bags: they get all over the place and cause harm to wildlife, but in terms of the mass of stuff in a family dustbin they are negligible - it probably takes as much material and energy to produce 100 carrier bags as one free MacDonalds toy with a happy meal.

And as for mercury filled energy saving lightbulbs, the whole case for them is based on the heat being wasted: whereas for much of the year in Northern Europe the energy will be consumed in your central heating boiler rather than the lightbulb.

Methinks the whole appliance-on-standby conceit was constructed as a straw man by the energy companies---by focussing attention there, people's energy consumption in other areas continues unabated, ensuring their profits.

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Don't disagree but I have to say there's something satisfying about encouraging the lowest possible standby energy use - it feels like it takes good design to achieve and so is just a laudable aim in itself even if it serves no real purpose.

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Anonymous Coward

Agreed. Maybe it won't save me a fortune and it probably won't make the difference of me dying in a house fire or not, but every little helps; and it doesn't exactly kill me to shift my lazy ass one step sideways on the way to bed in order to turn my AV stack off at the wall.

I *know* corporate and large-scale energy use is the problem as regards energy waste, just as I know that 48 hour long drug and vodka fuelled benders are the problem as regards my personal finances... but that doesn't mean that I should blithely throw away everything less than a five pound note in my pocket.

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Happy

Re: The tyranny of "Every little helps"

Totally agree about the carrier bags. Very visible, but quantity wise absolutly negliable. 0.0001% of land fill, because they are such light and flimsy things.

However the straw man isn't constructed by the energy companies - it's by the eco-loonies. They don't want to tell their followers to stop using the power shower and the spot lights etc so they work on something which makes people feel like they are really doing something - when they aren't. So by turning off the TV you can make a great play out of showing you are looking after the planet and you can feel good about it, because it doesn't really change your behaviour that much. But being told to not have showers, etc. - that just isn't on. People need to be clean and not smelly you know, even hippies.

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Anonymous Coward

"but that doesn't mean that I should blithely throw away everything less than a five pound note in my pocket."

So, the person who downvoted actually *is* too lazy to turn a plug off at the wall and throws loose change away?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The tyranny of "Every little helps"

You change what you can. If people insist on staying in the showers for five extra minutes for a wank, then that's a lost battle. Pick one that can be won. Encouraging people to turn off an AV stack on their way to bed is a low hanging fruit (shit: Did I really say that?!).

Hell; remember that LP was only two weeks ago in favour of using electricity to make more drinkable water via desalination, so he could wash his car with it? Some people are pretty intractable, and will never lift more than a finger to reduce energy consumption.

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Re: The tyranny of "Every little helps"

LP's position is that we can and should produce lots and lots of energy without harming the environment, which would in turn make the reduction of energy consumption a secondary concern. You may disagree with nuclear power, but LP's position is at least self-consistent. The same cannot be said for the standby warriors who leave the shower running.

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Re: The tyranny of "Every little helps"

Actually plastic bags are a fairly big percentage of landfill, enough so that it just might make sense to mine them from old landfill sites for energy use (http://www.machiels.com/company-detail.aspx?ID=885c55e0-f3b6-4fe6-aa25-1fa7bfc312dd). Which until recently was pretty well pure sci-fi!

However at the moment it probably would make more sense to burn plastic bags after they have been used and then use the heat for community warming (thereby curring out hte waste-dump middle man). Then the plastic bag is then just a step between the oil-well and the power-generation part. Of course if you want community warming then you need to build the power stations close to where people live, and that will not happen in Britain at the moment.

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After years of turning off at the wall the switches will be knackered and the expense and carbon emissions required to have an electrician drive to your house to replace them will exceed the cost and emissions of 'saved' standby power (unless you have some ropey equipment with needlessly high standby requirements).

The cost of treating and lost production from back injuries caused by bending over to switch off and on at the wall socket is probably significant when compared to the savings.

And much of the savings much of the year will just be replaced by your heating system.

And unlike your heating system much of overnight standby power comes from zero carbon emission nukes (while we still have some).

A comprehensive study tasked with finding the truth rather than the answer some eco green tosser wants would likely find it is more economic and greener to leave things on standby.

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Facepalm

Re: The tyranny of "Every little helps"

tree-hugging gf: Plastic bags are evil. They need to be eradicated. Save the planet!!!!

me : I am soooo sorry about using them. However... what do YOU use as thrash bags?

tree-hugging gf: Plastic thrash bags. Why?

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Re: the standby conceit

I think the appliance-on-standby conceit was actually true for a year or two about a generation ago. The first tellys with a standby facility were valve models and to keep them on standby meant keeping the valves warm. Consequently, they really did consume as much power on standby as actual use.

Within a year or so, everything switched to solid-state and standby power consumption dropped by an order of magnitude. Once people actually started engineering proper solutions, standby power dropped a further order of magnitude. This latter drop indicates that there was some merit in flagging up standby usage. It's a shame that those who flagged it up used a straw man for the purpose.

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Re: The tyranny of "Every little helps"

Plastic carrier bags have been biodegradable for years so cutting out their usage now is pointless!

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FAIL

That 5c coin that fell down the side of the couch? Yeah I ain't going to get it.

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Silver badge

Re: The tyranny of "Every little helps"

Degradable plastic bags are a pain. Had some Christmas baubles in a bag in a box. Dug the box out last Christmas and the bag was shredded and balls everywhere. Great idea.

Besides, if you do it the right way, they are more friendly.

Get the bag for your shopping. Take it to work with your lunch in it. Use it for your gym kit on the way home (save having to clean your kit bag from sweaty gear) and reuse as binbags (save using harsh chemicals on cleaning a bin).

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Make noise about the small stuff, ignore the big stuff

The carrier bag issue is a big one. Sure, plastic bags are bad for sea creatures etc, but they have been part of a greenwashing campaign in the last few years.

The supermarket chains tell us to be a new eco-shopper by taking your own bags and feeling smug. What they don't say is that over 99% of the environmental footprint (carbon, land use, whatever measurement you make) is caused by the contents of the bag. The eco-guilt of consumption has just been attached to the bag. Nice way to keep the shoppers consuming and take the focus away from the real issues.

By far the worst though is the Greenpeace Black Pixel project www.greenpeaceblackpixel.org which suggests that setting a few pixels on your screen back will save power on some screens. Even on the worst offending screens (ie giving them the best benefit of the doubt), the saving might be 50mW or so. You'd do better to take one less shower in your lifetime.

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Boffin

Energy usage in standby is so low these days and so the possible improvements are so marginal that I wouldn't be surprised if any funky design that improves it actually costs far more energy than it saves - energy used in design and manufacture, and the extraction of the raw materials.

The most obvious case of energy savings in daily use being swamped by the cost of manufacture is the greenies' friend the Toyota Prius. It is far less environmentally friendly, both in terms of lifetime energy use and in pollution, than the sort of vehicle they love to hate, such as my (evil, oil-burning, FOR BUY FORE OH NOES!!!!!eleven!!) Hilux. Why? Well, the Hilux is basically a few bits of simple metal bolted together, with an expected lifetime mileage of 250,000 miles. The Prius has a lot more plastics, a lot more fancy metals (the raw materials and manufacturing cost of the battery is awful), and has an expected lifetime mileage of 100,000 miles.

The Prius is so bad that, per mile, from manufacture to death, it costs twice as much energy to run than a Hilux, despite the Hilux getting only half the mpg.

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Anonymous Coward

"The cost of treating and lost production from back injuries caused by bending over to switch off and on at the wall socket is probably significant when compared to the savings."

Toss.

Anyone fat and unfit enough to bugger their back up by reaching down to turn off a switch needs to do more exercise than get off their lazy asses to turn off a plug on the way to bed. Bending over once a day is not going to cause a repetitive strain injury. And anyone who thinks it's hard work is going to probably drop dead from a heart attack and thus do the planet a world of good anyway.

Rather an eco green tosser than a fat, lazy, unfit and selfish one.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The tyranny of "Every little helps"

"LP's position is that we can and should produce lots and lots of energy without harming the environment"

We don't have enough nuclear power to do that for at least twenty years, so he's doing things the wrong way around. cf: I don't go out and start spending money until payday.

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Trollface

skipping one bath or shower saves energy?

So you're saying the average Greenpeace member actually does do a lot to save the environment?

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