Facilities (Managing Assets)

Vampire Power Load

You have implemented all sorts of energy-conserving measures on your campus. Included in your efforts were drastic updates in building control systems, changing out T12s to T8s or better, lighting controls, better use of daylighting, maximum reduction or total elimination of non-renewable fuel usage and so on. You have educated campus occupants (including your own staff) on their responsibilities regarding energy conservation. Good for you!

We are “less bad” in the ways we use energy and abuse the environment (from The Upcycle, by Michael Brangart and William McDonough). We are not helping our environment; we are just not doing as much damage. Does that mean we should stop improving? I don’t think so. In fact, there are still some relatively easy habits we could encourage that can save a fair amount of energy and dollars.

I recently listened to a piece on vampire (a.k.a. phantom or standby) load. After doing some additional research, I did a quick inventory of stuff we have that contributes to this phantom load in our own house. Even though there are usually just two of us that live here, our load increased substantially when we finished our basement, because it basically doubled the list of items that are always plugged into an outlet.

Guilty items: TVs, including three large-screen units; cable boxes (3); Internet terminal; microwaves (2); refrigerator/freezers (2); DVD players (2); phone/tablet chargers (4); laptop computers (3); compact stereo system; printers (2); stoves and ovens (2).

Invisible Usage

What is it with these items that create a vampire load? It is a wall plug that has a built-in transformer, or the equipment has a remote-control unit, or it has a clock display that is always on, or possibly a combination of these. Think about it: How often do you unplug your phone’s charging cord after the phone is fully charged? Probably not very often, meaning that the built-in transformer is still sucking up as much as 50 percent of the power as when the phone was connected. The TV is always partially powered up, waiting to receive a signal from a remote. Even when your laptop is turned off, its battery is still connected to the power source and is still using electricity as long as the computer is still hooked up.

Although each of the inactive loads may be relatively small, the cumulative effect is not so small. Based on an article published in the San Francisco Chronicle (Feb. 10, 2006), the wattage associated with the listed items may range from two watts to 11 watts, or more. For the sake of calculating the impact on my personal budget, I assumed an average of six watts per unit (probably low). With the 24 units in my home, we are consuming 132 watts. The yearly consumption would thus be 11,500 kilowatts. The average power rate across the U.S. is listed at approximately $.12/kwh. Thus the impact on our power bill is as much as $1,300/yr. (These calculations do not consider the amount of time the equipment is actually in use.)

Now, let’s apply this concept to your campus. How many items similar to the ones I have in my home would you find on your campus? Think of all the laptops, TVs, printers, copy machines (even those that sleep), microwaves, coffee makers with timers, etc. to which your campus provides power on a year-round basis. A frightening thought, don’t you think? It seems certain that there is a lot of energy being wasted.

Small Steps

How can we deal with this situation? One simple solution, in many cases, is to use power strips for much of this equipment. Users can simply flip the switch on the power strip when going home for the evening or the weekend, or even when going to a long meeting. In truth, I am not so naïve as to believe that everyone on a campus will play along. However, even if only some people participate, the cost avoidance can be substantial! A more effective solution might be to tie non-essential outlets to your security system, which could power those outlets down after hours. Over 50 percent of the world’s population in developed countries knows that climate change is a significant problem, more or less on the same level of concern as economic stability and terrorism (HSCB Bank survey, 2010). This could mean that odds are in your favor if you start a program to minimize vampire plug loads. Worth trying, don’t you think?

This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Pete van der Have is a retired facilities management professional and is currently teaching university-level FM classes as well as doing independent consulting. He can be reached at petevanderhave@msn.com.

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