Tackling Hidden Energy Consumption

Written by Ilke
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270px-EU_energy_labelIn general, the biggest electricity consumers are the water boiler, air-conditioning, aquarium, oven, tumble dryer, halogen spots, TV, and - if they do not have energy saving labels - your fridge, freezer, or dish-washing machine. In Belgium alone, 79 million of electrical equipment is sold every year, or on average 17 products per family a year.

All products also have a hidden consumption of energy. There are two kinds of hidden energy: the energy needed to produce a product and the energy your product consumes without you noticing it.

Grey energy and the total footprint

Did you know that with the energy to produce one aluminium storage tin you could wash 8 glass bottles, fill them, and fix a label on them?

Did you know that to produce one battery, you need the equivalent of 50 batteries in energy?

The energy to produce a product is also referred to in the ecological footprint of a product. Especially, the food industry and the electrical equipment industry have a big hidden or "grey" energy impact. In the food industry, we already know a bit more about the so called food miles, but the total footprint of your oranges contains more than just the impact of their transportation. For example, the energy to keep them stored at the right temperature and to produce wrapping should also be counted in. Buying local and fresh makes a big difference here!

For electrical products and IT equipment, like your mobile phone, the negative impact on the environment is even higher. Just think of all the raw materials which need to be derived from mines and then the processes needed to turn them into spare parts ready to assemble your phone. Did you know that to produce one mobile phone of 80 gram you leave 75 kg of waste?

How can you do something about it?

  • Buy less electrical appliances or IT equipment.
  • Try to resist the latest gadgets and trends.
  • Take good care of your stuff.
  • Try to have them repaired before buying a new one - the internet is a great ressource: FixYa, iFixIt
  • Have a look at second-hand equipment available, you might be surprised!
  • If you buy, do buy sustainable and quality stuff, or even better, consider old-fashioned mechanical tools, like a good knife instead of a electrical chopper or like a mechanical coffee bean grinder instead of one with a plug.
  • Make sure you have a long guarantee and that spare parts are available.
  • Go for the energy saving labels on new equipment.
  • Make sure your old equipment ends up in the right place to be recycled (see our article on waste and IT-equipment).
  • Consider solar chargers for iPods, MP3 devices, cameras, mobile phones (Nature et Découvertes), even laptops.

Phantom loads: the secret energy consumption of standby and non-standby

Even if your equipment is turned off, it will still consume energy just by being plugged in and being on standby. Did you know that on a yearly basis a video recorder on standby consumes 5,5 times more than using it 1,5 hours a day (and then turning it off)? A radio 10 times!

Did you know that digital television could raise your standby consumption with 75%, while less energy consuming models do exist today? Did you know that some internet boxes could use as much as a fridge working 24h a day?

But the so-called phantom load also hides in equipment without a standby function. Your coffee machine or washing machine does use electricity even when not in use. It might not be a lot, but on a yearly basis, all of them together do count. Your electricity bill could go down quite a lot just by tackling all the phantom loads of your house.

What you can do?

  • Plug all equipment in a power strip, electrical boxes with an on-off switch. Preferably, choose those with the switch close to the electricity outlet, which you can find in shops like Brico. Or just unplug each of them when not in use.
  • Especially transformers (e.g. for loading mobile phones) need to be unplugged, you can feel them getting warm (i.e. use energy) even when on standby (or when your battery is already loaded)
  • If you need to buy new equipment, find the energy labels which even exists for IT equipment. Recent models of video/DVD recorders even have a memory function for the time and date, so you can "unplug" them without losing that info.
  • Borrow (or buy one and share it with others) a watt-meter to check your hidden electricity consumption in your home.

Further reading:

Info: European energy labels

Energy labels from A to G rank all electronic equipment from energy saving A to very badly performing G. The most eco-friendly ones will also get the European eco-label, you know, the one with the flower and the stars as petals. On the label, you will also find detailed information like the consumption expressed in Kilowatt/Hour (KwH) and the noise level. The top model will have an A++ score but be aware that there still is a difference as to energy consumption between e.g. a big or small freezer!

This article was originally published in the December 2009 issue of the Sunbeams Newsletter.

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