Product Review

Fight Vampire Power with Smart Plugs

A great deal of the energy you consume at home is wasted. Depending on your situation, like if you have a heat pump to keep your house at a comfortable temperature, somewhere between 2.5% and 5% of your total electricity consumption comes from “Vampire Power,” also known as phantom power, ghost load, or less colorfully, idle current. This is the energy consumed by your devices when they are on standby, including your TV, microwave, phone chargers, and your computer. Credible estimates put energy wasted by devices not being used at 25% of the total power consumed by home electronics. One solution to the problem is to unplug your devices when not in use, but the obvious drawback here is that you need to remember to do it. Personally, I’m not the best about this and it often falls through the cracks when I’m busy dealing with kids, work, and all the other demands on my attention that come with being a busy working father.

The solution? Smart plugs. 

For about $12, you can buy a plug that connects to your wifi and schedule when you want it to be on or off using an app for your mobile device. They also work with smart speakers, so instead of walking around your house and manually unplugging everything, you can just say “[Smart Speaker], turn off plug X” and be done with it. 

It took me about 20 minutes to set my home up with three smart plugs, and I’ve ordered another there. I’ve taken to scheduling nearly everything to turn off between 11pm and 630 am, and keeping my work related electronics turned off all weekend. When I need them, it’s just a matter of pushing the button to get power back. Smart plugs are a great idea for any devices attached to outlets that you use just intermittently, especially at regular schedules. They are a bad idea for outlets that can get wet, like in the kitchen, and not useful for devices that remain always on, like your refrigerator. 

A study by the national renewable energy lab found that smart plugs save between 500 and 1000 KWh / year. At the low end, that’s $55 / year assuming the national average power price of 11 cents per kilowatt hour. Assuming you need eight plugs, this means that the investment will pay for itself in around a year – in addition to being the right thing to do for the environment. 

As you may have heard, the world is facing something of an energy crunch. We’re trying to curtail highly emitting sources of energy as quickly as possible but haven’t adequately invested in the replacement, such as renewables and nuclear power. One critical step you can take right now is to reduce your power consumption, and you can do it without making any real sacrifice to your quality of life. All you need are smart plugs, better insulation, and little changes like using watersense low flow showerheads and setting your washer to use cold water. Of course, whenever it’s time to replace your appliances, go for efficiency. These things make a difference, and they will save you money. 

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