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issue: May 2003 APPLIANCE Magazine

Still Standing By...

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Editorial from Diane Ritchey, Editor, APPLIANCE Magazine

Much has happened with "standby power," the power used by an appliance during the lowest possible electricity consuming mode.

Diane Ritchey, Editor

The term "standby power" applies to anything with an external power supply, remote control, clock display, or other features that require standby electricity.

The focus of attention has been on products with continual displays (microwaves and ranges), remote control circuits (televisions and VCRs), battery chargers (cordless vacuums and power tools), all of which draw small amounts of energy in their inactive mode.

The issue has continued to spark debate between the U.S. DOE and the EPA, appliance makers, and trade associations such as AHAM. It was recently discussed at the International Appliance Technical Conference in West Lafayette, IN, U.S., among a panel moderated by Wayne Morris of AHAM, including panel members Larry Wethje of AHAM; Larry Albert from the North American Power Tools Group at Black and Decker; and Peter Biermeyer, program manager at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories.

Why the fuss over a microwave oven, for example, being plugged in all of the time, even when not in use? With products such as refrigerator/freezers using 60-percent less energy today than 20 years ago, and clothes washers that will be 55-percent more efficient than a decade ago under new standards, why is standby power garnering so much attention? Good question, said Mr. Wethje of AHAM. Perhaps, he noted, as the overall total energy consumption of appliances has improved, the standby energy component has become more noticeable. In addition, he said, "The appliance industry doesn't have nearly the lobbying capabilities of the automotive industry to thwart the efforts of those who have focused on us."

Back in the late 1990s when this issue first came up there were no uniform definitions of standby power. Now under development is an international standard, under the auspices of the International Electro Technical Commission (IEC), to come up with a definition. The IEC draft standard, 62301, called the Measurement of Standby Power for Household Electrical Appliances, should be published early next year. The objective is to establish a test method for measuring the standby power of household appliances in standby mode. According to Mr. Wethje, there is no intention to specify any type of minimum performance criteria or requirements in the standard, or to set any type of maximum limits of power or energy consumption.

The new standard, he said, will not deal with any safety aspects either, and is strictly a performance test method. The setup for the standard is based upon a manufacturer's instructions unless it conflicts with some of the standard's requirements. If no product instructions are given, then the factory or "default" settings are used, or the appliance is tested as supplied.

Under the standard, two test methods are specified. If the power mode is stable, then the wattage meter value is recorded after stabilization. If the power mode is not stable, meter power readings over a specified period are averaged, or the energy consumption is measured over a specified period and divided by the time. There will be a set definition for standby mode, which is proposed as, "the lowest power consumption mode which cannot be switched off (influenced) by the user and that may persist for an indefinite time when an appliance is connected to the main electricity supply and used in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions." Standby power, then, will be the average power in standby mode when measured in accordance with the procedure prescribed in the standard, in watts.

In addition to household appliances, appliances or battery packs that dock on a battery charger have been targeted for standby legislation, according to Mr. Albert of Black & Decker. His company is examining standby power issues with continuous and 2-stage chargers, and he noted that the issue has brought more awareness to the design stage of battery chargers. Yet, he said, "OverallÉgiven the number of chargers the industry ships and the amount of standby power there, it translates to a fairly insignificant amount of energy use in the U.S."

In addition, performance and safety issues need to be key considerations in any decision regarding standby power. To properly consider these aspects, it may be necessary to add significant components beyond just a power microchip. Still, with a common definition and standard for measuring standby power, I cannot help but believe that time and energy are being wasted on an issue that, compared to other "offenders," is not significantly affecting global warming or the environment.

Using a typical clothes washer as an example, Mr. Wethje noted that the total standby energy cost for a whole year is around $2. Even if we were to decrease that amount in half with standby regulations, the savings may only be $1 per year. According to an IEA publication in 2001, Things that Go Blip in the Night, the total standby energy for the U.S. is about 44.3 TWh/yr, which is 1.2 percent of the nation's electricity use. This contributes to only 0.5 percent of national CO2 emissions. Frankly, both amounts are insignificant, and allow for little impact with respect to energy conservation or emissions reductions. Even the most drastic measures could only result in a fraction of a percent benefit.

In addition, as Mr. Wethje noted, what is this issue going to mean to the potential functionality of an appliance? Are we going to add cost to the design and manufacture of the appliance to reduce the standby power, and is it worth it? At the risk of eliminating features, I don't think so. Why did I buy that model of that coffeemaker with the clock on it instead of the one that didn't have a clock? Because I wanted that feature. Is standby power truly a loss, or does it provide features that I want and need in my appliances?

Mr. Wethje noted, "We are spending a lot of effort, time, and resources towards potentially reducing a fraction of a percent of CO2 emissions. There are other areas that have hardly been targeted for any conservation measures, such as transportation and industrial manufacturing. Appliances have received tremendous scrutiny over the years. But every appliance now is very efficient. The low hanging fruit has been picked, and we are at a point now where we are focusing on 1 or 2 watts. To me, it just seems like ill-advised allocation of resources when much more larger opportunities are out there." I couldn't agree more.


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