Phantom power? Call the Ghostbusters

One of the hot topic of the moment is global warming. In 2007 the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that scientists were more than 90% certain that most of global warming was being caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases produced by human activities. Fossil fuel burning has produced about three-quarters of the increase in CO2 from human activity over the past 20 years. Coal burning was responsible for 43% of the total emissions, oil 34%, and gas 18%. Also steam generators in large power plants burn considerable amounts of fossil fuels and therefore emit large amounts of CO2 to the ambient atmosphere. Thus, the needed for more energy means needed for more fossil fuel burning (the ideal scenario is renewable energy but this is another post).

Phantom power (also called Standby power, vampire power, vampire draw, phantom load, or leaking electricity) is when electronic devices are left plugged in, using a significant amount of power. They cannot be turned ‘off’ without being unplugged while others continue to draw power while not performing their primary purpose. It’s costing you money. It’s also costing our planet even more with wasteful carbon emissions. In 2002 phantom power was concern in the international community. Ross and his friend Meier investigated the variation in standby power consumption in 10 California homes. They found that:

Total standby power in the homes ranged from 14 to 169 W, with an average of 67 W. This corresponded to 5-26% of the homes’ annual electricity use. … Replacing existing units with appliances using 1 W or less of standby power would reduce standby power use by 68%, achieving a 7% reduction in annual electricity consumption.

Thus the maximum one watt for all appliances could result in higher reductions in phantom power per household than replacing some appliances with the newer ones.

Twelve years later Sahin and his friend Koksal studied the standby electricity consumption and saving potentials of Turkish households. They found that:

Turkey’s rapidly growing population and economy have fuelled a rapidly growing demand for electricity, especially in the residential sector. The increase in household income levels and decrease in appliance costs have resulted in a significant increase in the number of appliances in the homes. Thus, the share of appliance electricity consumption has been increasing rapidly in the Turkish housing sector.

The Turkish scenario is a world trend where population is growing, the demand for electricity is also growing, and electronic devices are getting cheaper. Sahin and his friend Koksal also found that :

… the national residential electricity consumption can be reduced by 3.0%-5.2% and electricity generation associated CO2 emissions by 0.6%-1.0% based on new appliance and 1 W scenarios, respectively.

Although a single household has an almost negligible contribution, the aggregated actions can be significant enough to be taken into account in any energy efficiency program. If one is talking about countries like Turkey in which more than half of the electricity is generated using the imported natural gas and one third is generated using coal small contributions could have a huge impact in the economy, money savings and CO2 reduction.

So if you like to help the carbon emissions cut you don’t need to buy electric vehicles or new electronic devices with  ENERGY STAR label. Be a ghostbuster. You only need to unplug the electronic devices that are not in use. Simple as that. You don’t believe that global warming is related to human activity? That is Ok you can be a ghostbuster too. You can save some bucks doing the same. How much? Here is an example extracted from the The Province (daily newspaper published in Canada). For a family of four (Mom, Dad and two teenagers) with 4 televisions, 2 PVRs, 2 laptops, 1 computer, 1 printer, 4 stereos, 3 phone chargers, 1 gaming console, 1 microwave, 1 dishwasher, 1 stove, 1 toaster, and 2 DVD player the total average standby energy consumption over a year for these items is 1,054 kilowatt hours. That’s $108.55 per year.

Also it is possible to follow the advices of the Burlington Hydro Electric Inc.  and take a step further:

  • For electronics/appliances that you do not unplug, use a surge protector or power bar with multiple outlets and switch off the entire strip when you are not using it. Using a power bar or suppression strip is especially useful if you are switching off several devices that are often used together such as a PC, a monitor and a printer.
  • “Smart strips” automatically detect changes in electricity current, and are excellent devices to automate powering on and off multiple devices.
  • Consider buying energy-saving devices that offer a real or hard “off” switch which eliminate standby power.
  • Take advantage of “soft off switches” or ‘computer silent modes’, but remember, even in this case, the devices are drawing phantom power.
  • Consider timers to turn off standby power to devices that are unused on a regular basis.
  • Replace battery-powered devices, such as cordless phones or rechargeable razors, with corded alternatives.
  • Make sure that the switch for your surge protector or power bar is in a position where it can easily be turned on and off.
  • Look for the ENERGY STAR label whenever you buy new electronics or appliances. ENERGY STAR identifies the most energy efficient products, which reduce energy use even in standby mode.
  • Conduct your own home energy inspection, probing for phantom power culprits, taking the opportunity to reassess your appliance use.

Do you want to learn more? You can read:

Journal references:

Le Quéré, C., Andres, R. J., Boden, T., Conway, T., Houghton, R. A., House, J. I., Marland, G., Peters, G. P., van der Werf, G. R., Ahlström, A., Andrew, R. M., Bopp, L., Canadell, J. G.,  Ciais, P., Doney, S. C., Enright, C., Friedlingstein, P., Huntingford, C., Jain, A. K., Jourdain, C., Kato, E., Keeling, R. F., Klein Goldewijk, K., Levis, S., Levy, P., Lomas, M., Poulter, B., Raupach, M. R., Schwinger, J., Sitch, S., Stocker, B. D., Viovy, N., Zaehle, S., and Zeng, N.: The global carbon budget 1959–2011, Earth Syst. Sci. Data, 5, 165-185, doi:10.5194/essd-5-165-2013, 2013.

J.P Ross, A Meier, Measurements of whole-house standby power consumption in California homes, Energy, Volume 27, Issue 9, September 2002, Pages 861-868, ISSN 0360-5442,

Mustafa Cagri Sahin, Merih Aydinalp Koksal, Standby electricity consumption and saving potentials of Turkish households, Applied Energy, Volume 114, February 2014, Pages 531-538, ISSN 0306-2619,



  1. I am not sure where you’re getting your info, but
    good topic. I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more.
    Thanks for fantastic information I was looking for this information for my


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