IEA warning over vampire appliances secretly siphoning off energy

By Ed King

Does your house really sleep at night?

You may turn off the TV, switch off the lights and settle down for some much needed kip, but I’d bet your home is still alive with tiny devices sucking away at your energy bills.

Smart appliances, tablet devices and televisions on ‘standby’ are still placing huge pressure on existing energy infrastructure, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warns.

In 2010 it says 160 million set-top boxes in the US consumed the equivalent of the output of the largest nuclear power station in the USA, costing their owners a combined total of $2 billion.

Information communication technology (ICT) currently accounts for 5% of global energy consumption, a figure the IEA says could triple by 2030.

Analysts predict Amazon will shift 10.5 million Kindle Fires in 2013, while Apple are expected to sell 83 million iPads

This Christmas saw sales of tablet computers like the Kindle Fire and iPad Mini soar.

A spokesman for UK computer retailer Dixons, which also runs Curry’s and PC World, told me they had ordered a million tablets for the festive season – five times more than in 2011.

Analysts Deloitte predict that by 2016, annual sales will hit 250 million, with many people owning multiple devices.

It’s good news for manufacturers and retailers, but despite the multitude of apps that allow you to monitor your carbon footprint, it could be very bad news for the environment.

While many devices have low-power options, those connected to the internet are frequently working all day, every day.

Like vampires they suck on energy systems at the dead of night, even after we have pressed what seems like an ‘off’ button.

The IEA also says appliances on standby are currently responsible for 240 million tonnes of CO2 emissions a year (or 1 % of global CO2 emissions).

Constant drain

Some appear to be designed not to be switched off.

Amazon recommend their Kindle devices are placed on standby, as it takes more power to ‘reboot’ them from off.

My HTC Smartphone’s alarm only works if it is on standby, so I leave it on all night. Every night.

O2 have told me my internet router should be left on 24 hours a day, as it could receive new instructions at any time. Which is just ridiculous.

Far from these devices sleeping, they’re actually chattering away at high speed, updating the time, news and emails.

The mobile signal and wifi continually drain power, even while the phone is sleeping (see blue line at bottom)

16% of my phone’s power is used just being on standby, wifi takes 8% while the Guardian App sucks up 4% (you might have thought it would be greener). Angry Birds is probably finding angrier birds and pigs for my next game.

The IEA says networked devices often use electricity full tilt even when not delivering services, pointing out that an average US house has four such devices.

“As more and different appliances are networked, current low-consumption machines will revert to high standby consumption,” its report reads.

It describes this as “one of the most challenging areas in energy efficiency”, due to the number of manufacturers involved and the speed of development.

John Field from analysts TEAM energy tells me smaller devices like tablets are getting more efficient, but this is being balanced out by ever more powerful processors which demand more energy.

And chattering machines have a knock-on effect.

Consumption by data centres and server farms is also soaring. The IEA says they used 1.5% of global electricity in 2010, a figure that will only rise given annual growth rates of 12%.

Facebook and Google have both made efforts to re-engineer software and cooling systems. Just over a year ago Facebook announced it would ‘unfriend’ coal and run its centres on renewable sources.

Greenpeace is currently badgering Apple to follow suit – but the message seems clear.

If you value the pennies in your pocket and the environment, ignore the manufacturers and turn everything off at night.

I’m off to buy an old fashioned wind-up alarm clock.

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