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Phantom Loads: Picking Your Battles

I was recently at a dinner party where the conversation turned to ways each of us could better the environment. Of course energy conservation is always an interest of mine, but I was surprised how many people talked about phantom loads. I knew what they were already, and I agree that efforts should be made by both manufacturers and consumers to reduce phantom loads, but I was shocked with what I consider the disproportionate amount of emphasis that was being placed on it. Especially the focus on unplugging your mobile phone charger when not in use.

Some sources claim that phantom loads draw between 1 - 10 watts. This may be true of some devices (perhaps computers and televisions), but I recently left my mobile phone charger plugged into a plug load analyzer for over 24 hours, and it did not even register a single watt-hour. It is possible that the quality of the standard Nokia charger is better than other mobile chargers.

But lets assume that it did draw a 5 watt phantom load. If you left it plugged in 24 hours a day for a year (and never used it to charge your phone), you'd use about 44 kWh of energy. That is significant considering you didn't even use it to charge your phone. But what about that 75 watt incandescent light bulb that is on an average of two hours a day every day of the year? It uses about 55 kWh of energy. If you replaced it with a 15 watt compact fluorescent (CFL), it would only use about 11 kWh of energy, a savings of 44 kWh (the same amount as that hypothetical phantom load). Depending on the size of your house, you probably have significantly more than 1 bulb that is on 2 hours a day.

Again, I'm not saying we shouldn't worry about phantom loads, but replacing your bulbs is a sure thing. Unplugging devices that may be drawing phantom loads might be misdirected time/energyeffort if the device is as efficient as my Nokia charger. I suggest attacking your energy use first with the biggest culprits. Set your air conditioning a degree or two (or more) warmer than you used to. If your water heater is electric, try setting it a few degrees cooler than you used to. Set your refrigerator one setting warmer. Turn off lights when they aren't being used. Use compact CFL's or LED's rather than incandescents (start with the bulbs used the most often). Once you've taken all of those steps, then start zeroing in on phantom loads.

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Yerman, just an observation ... starting a post with "I was recently at a dinner party...", sounds kinda wanky ;-) Conor, May 08, 2008 01:28