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issue: December 2007 APPLIANCE Magazine

The Open Door
A Closer Look at Standby Power

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by Wayne Morris, vice president, division services, Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers

Standby power has become an attractive target for energy savings and is considered responsible for about 1% of global carbon dioxide emissions. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has paid particular attention to in-home energy use and estimates 3–13% of worldwide energy consumption occurs in standby mode. Regulatory bodies around the world are examining ways to limit the use and growth of standby power.

Standby power initially referred to the energy consumed by an electrical product while switched off or not performing its primary function. The issue is more nuanced today, since electrical products can exist in multiple states, which include its main function, its standby functions, and its “no function.” In its main function, a product can either be in an active mode or in a transition to standby or off mode. When a product is in the standby function, it will either be in a networked standby mode or a passive standby mode. During the “no function” category, it is in the off mode, which means that in some products, a slight amount of energy can be in use.

Standby power use should also be put in the context of various products. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, home appliances account for 38% of electricity consumption by end-users in U.S. households. Home electronics use about 7.2% of household electricity. These data are from 2001, so it is safe to assume that electricity usage of home electronics has increased since then.

However, when total standby household use is measured, home appliances account for 10%, while home electronics, including computers and peripherals, account for 69%, according to the European Union. To further put standby power in perspective, an Australian survey of household energy use estimates per-product standby energy consumption as follows: set-top boxes, 12.1 W; computer and peripherals, 5.2 W; TVs, 3.6 W; major appliances, 1.4 W; and monitoring appliances and timers, 1.1 W.

Why is the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) concerned about the regulation of standby power? The answer is that most major home appliances have gone through several mandatory national appliance efficiency requirements in the United States. In addition, the U.S. Energy Star program promotes appliances that outperform the national efficiency standards. So our industry and its consumers have a huge stake in appliance efficiency, and our goal is to deliver it to the consumer without sacrificing the product’s performance. In some cases, standby power helps with overall energy consumption.

Up until now, the most-discussed method for regulating standby power in electrical and electronic products has been to limit standby power energy to 1 W. This approach has been favored in Australia and South Korea and espoused strongly by the IEA. While the IEA has done a good job helping educate the public and policymakers about standby power and the opportunities for efficiency gains, its policy prescription fails to weigh the benefits that some products deliver in standby mode.

There are obvious uses of standby power that support a product’s function, such as a remotely controlled TV or a computer printer that will automatically turn “on” when the print button is clicked on a computer. Standby power can also facilitate energy savings and performance. For instance, it supports the delayed start feature on dishwashers, allowing them to work overnight when energy demands are low. Elimination of this feature would save standby power, but could actually make the product less efficient in terms of energy and water consumption.

The IEA approach has recently been called into question by AHAM and by the countries participating in the Asia Pacific Partnership, a multilateral group seeking energy efficiency and climate-change policy improvements. AHAM members recognize that standby power can be an important component of energy efficiency in electrical products such as home appliances, and for that reason, the 1-watt solution could negate progress. Policymakers must consider the role of standby power in the product’s functionality, its overall energy use, and the practicality and relative costs to the consumer of reducing the availability of features made possible by energy in this form.

Standby power is not inherently a villain; it is a tool. Used wisely, it adds value for consumers and can restrain overall energy demands.

About the Author

Prior to joining AHAM in 1994, Wayne Morris held various engineering and technical positions with appliance manufacturers, including Black & Decker and Pollenex. He holds a master’s in administration from Johns Hopkins University and a BS in biology and natural sciences from West Virginia Wesleyan College. To contact him, please e-mail lisa.bonnema@cancom.com.


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