There are some creepy things happening in companies across America this Halloween. No, I’m not talking about zombie-like presenteeism (which is truly terrifying for productivity goals.) This scary threat to your business involves your ever-increasing utility bills; we’re talking about the very real damage caused by vampire power. Because the U.S. Department of Energy has designated the month of October as national Energy Action Month (and usually share a week of energy tips dubbed “Energyween”), now is the right time to understand how this silent threat to your profits can really suck.
What is Vampire Power?
Also known as “standby power, phantom load, ghost load or leaking electricity,” this is electricity you pay for but that doesn’t necessarily power anything of use. The term, which has been around since before 2001, refers to the “external power supply—the little black cubes—which have two teeth plugs and suck electricity all night.” The term “leaking electricity” was created by Swedish engineer, Eje Sandberg, in 1993.
This power is consumed by electronics when they are in standby mode, power-saving mode, or even when turned off! While it may seem that this usage isn’t significant compared to the power used by active gadgets, the stats speak otherwise, and Energy.gov estimates that 10% of a consumer’s current electric bill is caused by vampire power.
This table from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory lists some common appliances and their cost in ghost load. (Note: It’s a bit outdated, hence the reference to VCR’s.) You get the point, however. With an average of 40 products per home with the potential to suck a little juice from your monthly power bill, it’s no wonder small businesses are starting to take some serious notice now.
So, why do our appliances and electronics use standby power? It has a purpose. In fact, it’s what we credit for being able to turn on those old CRT televisions quickly without having to wait for the tubes to heat up and for our coffee makers having those little clocks that can start brewing each morning at 6 am without pushing any buttons. We couldn’t use our remotes to turn on RF devices from sleep or off mode, either. In short, we need this type of power in our lives – just not for everything, and not all the time.
The data available currently covers consumer use, but it’s easy to make the connection between that increase in power consumption to business usage. Imagine what your small business could do with an extra 10% in energy costs!
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How to Diminish the Cost
For the small business, there’s no need to continue paying for every appliance in the office to be sucking up power when not in use. There is usually a much more defined window for the standard 9-5 business to completely shut down things like printers, monitors, and communication equipment – especially at nights and on weekends. There are other ways to handle ghostly power theft, as well. They include:
1. Get a grip on charging
Our phone and mobile device charging stations live for phantom loads. In fact, they continue to use bits of electricity after our phones are done charging – whether the phone is still plugged in, or not. Since it’s a bit of a pain to remember to unplug your charger each time it’s not in use, consider a power strip that can be switched off from a convenient location each time your workers leave the office.
2. Practice “master/slave” pairings
While the term is losing favor to the more acceptable “always on/not always on” labels, many power strips have a dedicated “master” – such as the desktop computer – that, when powered on, triggers the rest of the items plugged in (such as monitor, speakers, and printer) to receive power, as well. When the desktop is powered off or enters hibernation mode, the power gets switched off to these auxiliary devices.
3. Use a timer
If you won’t be in the office during set times each day or week, set a digital timer to automatically shut off outlets or power strips during these times. There are also smart outlets and strips that can be controlled remotely through the network wi-fi, as well. These can be useful for remotely shutting down power groupings from a mobile device app.
4. Mitigate heat
One additional cost to vampire power is the heat it puts into the environment. When this electricity doesn’t power your already-charged battery, for example, it get put into the surrounding area as heat. In the summer months, when it’s already difficult to cool an office, these small bits of ghost energy can really add up. Consider better ventilation and heat-management practices in areas where vampire consumers are located – such as IT storage closets and server rooms. This way, you’re not paying twice; once for the power itself and again for removal of the heat from that power.
5. Go EnergyStar
Finally, many appliances are getting smarter about the amount of power they use – making it less important that they be cut off from the circuit. Computers alone can use 70% less power, making it especially cost-efficient for the modern office environment. By continually investing in appliances that have earned the government’s EnergyStar rating, you can make sure that you pay less year-round for powering them.
Is it a Silver Bullet?
It’s a bit naïve to think that just adding some power plugs to your office set-up will cure all ills. Nothing works without proper training so that staff knows how, when, and why new habits will benefit them. There’s also the matter of purchasing the tools to make the change; you’ll likely invest a bit more in the beginning to create the systems that will defeat vampire power drains. It will take some time to see the change that will show up on your budget report.
Additionally, while the stats for consumers is somewhat striking (this Good video from 2008 credits the phenomenon for one-month’s cost in electric bills), businesses are a whole different matter. Whether you have power-sucking A/V equipment, manufacturing machinery, or a staff of phone reps who take full advantage of every outlet, it’s better to start getting creative about how to reign in these costs than to pass them off as a necessary evil.
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