February 09, 2009


Posted on February 9, 2009 by Stephen E. Herrmann


The One-Watt Initiative is a fairly simple regulatory program proposed for eliminating unnecessary electricity losses from electronic equipment in standby mode, known as phantom loads. The European Union, Canada, Korea, Japan and China have all taken action. The United States needs to step up to action through the federal government or the states. President Obama’s administration should be urged by all of us to adopt a policy in 2009. Because of the diverse pressures on the Federal government, simultaneous pressure should be exerted on all states to adopt the One-Watt policy.


Chances are that even environmental lawyers ignore the high energy costs of “phantom load.” But, now is the time to get regulation started.

Phantom load is the electricity consumed by a device when it is turned OFF.[1] Devices that have a phantom load are sometimes referred to as “vampires.”   For example, a television consumes electricity as it waits for the “on” button on the remote to be hit. Heavy phantom load users include the “power brick” adaptors that charge or operate cell phones, laptop computers, cordless drills, answering machines, radios, incheck printers and many other residential devices. These adapters are actually small transfers, turning AC electricity from the wall outlet into the DC electricity for use by the device. While one of these devices may only consume a small amount of power (e.g., 3-20 watts), a dozen or so of them running simultaneously and continuously, consume a significant amount of energy. What is worse is that even when not charging the cell phone or the battery for the cordless drill, that AC adapter may continue to consume power just because it is plugged into the wall.


In the United States, the phantom load make up about six percent of the total, and around ten percent of residential consumption. 

As the United States Department of Energy stated: 

“Many appliances continue to draw a small of power when they are switched off. These “phantom” loads occur in most appliances that use electricity, such as VCRs, televisions, stereos, computers and kitchen appliances. In the average home, 75% of electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while the products are turned off. This can be avoided by unplugging the appliance or using the power strip and using the switch on the power strip to cut all power to the appliance.”

The British Government’s 2006 Energy Review found that standby modes on electric devices accounted for 8% of all British domestic power consumption. A similar study in France in 2000 found that standby power accounted for 7% of total residential consumption. Further studies have come to similar conclusions in other developed countries, including the Netherlands, Australia and Japan. Some countries estimates the proportion of consumption due to standby power as high as 13% in some countries. 


The One-Watt Initiative is an energy saving proposal by the International Energy Agency to reduce standby power in all appliances to just one watt. The One-Watt Initiative was launched by the IEA in 1999 to promote, through international cooperation, that by 2010, all new appliances sold in the world would only use one watt in standby mode. On July, 2005, at the Gleneagles Summit in Scotland, the G8 countries signed an endorsement to, among other things, “promote the application of the IEA’s 1 Watt Initiative”. It is estimated that, if implemented, leaking electricity would be cut by as much as 75% when the existing stock of appliances is replaced. Further savings would occur as the number of vampire appliances increase.


An international group of experts was assembled to define standby power and establish a common test procedure. An internationally sanctioned definition and test procedure was adopted by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC 62301).

On January 9, 2009, the European Commission adopted a regulation laying down energy efficiency requirements, which is intended to cut the standby electricity consumption by almost 75% by 2020. As of 2010, the standby power consumption of new products has to be less than one watt or two watts. These values will be lowered in 2013 to 0.5 watt and one watt, which is close to the levels achievable with the best available technology.

NR Canada by Regulation is proposing that the Tier 1 energy efficiency performance standards for certain standby power will apply to products manufactured after June 1, 2009. The effective date for the Tier 2 standards will be applied to products manufactured after June 1, 2011.

Both South Korea and Australia have introduced the one watt benchmark in all new electrical devices, and according to the IEA, other countries, notably Japan and China, have undertaken “strong measures” to reduce standby power use. 


So far the United States government’s only action has been Executive Order 13221 signed by President George W. Bush in 2001. The Executive Committee states that every governmental agency “when it purchases commercially-available, off-the-shelf products that use external standby power devices, or that contain an internal standby power function, shall purchase products that use no more than one watt in a standby power-consuming mode.”

The State of California currently has an Appliance Efficiency Regulation which includes standby power limits for three consumer audio and video equipment categories (compact audio products, televisions and DVD players and recorders). A few other states have announced intentions to follow the California regulations for standby power limits but have not done so.


This is an excellent issue to be pushed by any environmental group or generally concerned citizens. With the backing it has internationally, lobbying should garner little resistance. The United States or individual states should take action in 2009.

[1] There are issues about a definition for standby power. However, for purposes of general regulations, standby power is the lowest level of electricity consumed by appliances, which cannot be switched off (influenced) by the user, and may persist for an indefinite time when an appliance is connected to its main electricity supply.

Tags: Climate

Climate | Energy

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