Energy Vampires or the Phantom Load Menace

What are “energy vampires” or “phantom loads”? First, they are not the monsters hiding in the closet to drain your energy and make really cheesy movies. (Those are completely different ones that won’t be making an appearance in this blog.)

Energy vampires are devices that use electricity when you think they are off. They are the cell phone and iPod chargers that are left plugged in, the computer that is left in sleep mode all day, or the TV that comes on instantly when you press the button on the remote. Electronics like this never really turn off. There is always some power going to them. This allows things like clocks on DVD players to still function while off, or for the TV to come on instantly with a remote control. Phantom load accounts for 64 million megawatts (or 64,000,000,000 kilowatt hours) of power and $4 billion a year in the United States.

To find out how much that means for you, we’ll have to do some more math!

Texas Average cost of electricity – in Houston it goes from $0.10 to $0.18 per kilowatt hour. So that makes an average of $0.14 per kilowatt hour.

Here are the two bits of math to keep in mind while we figure out how much phantom load we use and how much it costs.

1 kilowatt = 1,000 watts

1 kilowatt hour = $0.14

So how much phantom load do you have?

A cell phone charger uses 0.5 watts when it is just sitting there without a cell plugged in. That adds up to 0.012 kilowatt hours per day or $0.0017. For an entire month it uses 0.36 kilowatt-hours or $0.05 per month. Yearly it uses 4.32 kilowatt hours per year or $.60 per year.

That doesn’t sound so bad. Lets keep going.

Latest photo of the TV stuff.
Creative Commons License photo credit: William Hook

An LCD TV of greater then 40 inches uses about 3 watts of power when it appears to be off, so the TV consumes 0.003 kilowatts per hour at a cost of $0.0042 per hour. For a day it uses 0.72 kilowatt hours or $0.10 every day. Per month it uses 2.16 kilowatt hours or $0.30 per month. Yearly it uses 25.92 kilowatt hours or $3.63 per year.

A computer uses 4 watts when it is off, 17 watts when it is asleep or 68 watts when it is on.

If you turn your computer off it is still taking in 0.004 kilowatts or costing you $0.00056 per hour which turns into 0.096 kilowatt hours a day or $0.01 every day. Over a month it uses 2.88 kilowatts hours or costs $0.40. In a year it will use 34.56 kilowatt hours or $4.83.

When you put the computer to sleep (lullaby little technology, go to sleep…) it still draws around 0.017 kilowatts per hour or $0.00238 per hour. That is 0.408 kilowatt hours each day or $.06 per day. Monthly that works out to 12.24 kilowatt hours or costs $1.71 per month. For an entire year that adds up to 146.88 kilowatt hours or $20.56 for a year.

If you’re like me and you leave your computer on all the time, it uses 0.068 kilowatts per hour, costing$0.01 per hour. Over one day it uses 1.632 kilowatts hours or $0.23 per day. If I left the computer on for a month it would use 48.96 kilowatt hours and cost $6.85. If I left it on for a whole year it would use 587.52 kilowatt hours and cost me $82.25.

After writing this blog I now turn my home computer off when I come to work.

A DVD player uses 1 watt while turned off or 0.001 kilowatt per hour and cost $0.00014 per hour so the DVD player uses 0.024 kilowatt hours a day and cost $0.00336 each day. Over a month it would use 0.72 kilowatt hours and cost $.10. Each year it would use 8.64 kilowatt hours and cost $1.21.

A Playstation 3 uses 1.5 watts per hour when it is off, so that’s 0.0015 kilowatts per hour and $0.00021. Each day that’s 0.036 kilowatt hours or $0.0054. Over a month it uses 1.08 kilowatt hours and costs $.15 per month. Yearly it uses 12.96 kilowatt hours and cost $1.81 per year.

A coffee maker uses 1.14 watts per hour while it is off. (This would be a coffee maker with a clock in it, or maybe a clock with an alarm that can be set to make coffee at a certain time). So the coffee maker would use .00114 kilowatts per hour and cost $0.0001596. Every day it would use 0.02736 kilowatts hours costing $.003804. Over a month it would use 0.8208 kilowatts hours and cost $0.11. Over a year, that’s 9.8496 kilowatt hours and $1.37.

That may all be small change, but it can add up. If you have a coffee maker, two cell phone chargers, a Playstation 3, three computers, a DVD player, and a LCD TV, then you spend about $2 a month just having stuff plugged in. (Note: I have not factored in monitors for computers, printers, microwaves, refrigerators, etc.)

Power Outlet
Creative Commons License photo credit: edkohler

So watts the answer? Should everything be unplugged when you’re not using it? The answer to that is probably not. Some things like smoke or carbon monoxide detectors should be left plugged in. Most people won’t want to spend the time plugging in and unplugging the TV to save a few dollars. But if you have a second TV that is not used very often, then it could be unplugged. Or if you don’t want to spend the time unplugging each cell phone charger, you could put them all on one power strip and turn the power strip off when you’re not charging. Now you can even get power strips that turn themselves off when they’re not in use. Mostly, it’s just being aware of your power usage. If you know that, you can make informed decisions.

Not to Be Long-Winded, But…

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Creative Commons License photo credit: __Dori__

Just can’t get enough wind energy this month. NPR featured  (recently mentioned here) T. Boone Pickens, the venerable Texas oilman, and his plans to put 2500  wind turbines in the Texas panhandle–enough to power 1.3 million homes. He is a big advocate of using more wind energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by making more natural gas–currently used to generate electricity–available for powering transportation. Pickens points out a study citing that the land available in North Dakota for wind turbines–if used for that purpose–might be enough to power the entire USA.

And for those of you who are still stuck on the idea that wind turbines are ugly, you can soon try on a hot little number designed by French designer Philippe Starck. He’s designed a plastic wind turbine that can generate 20 to 60 percent (!) of your home electricity needs. NPR reports that it will be available later this year for only $630.  Maybe you should run down to your local wind boutique to make sure you’re on the list for this one. Fashion forward AND eco-friendly. How hip are you gonna be this fall?

Bertha
Creative Commons License photo credit: CoreBurn

Speaking of wind, hurricane season is now in session, which means we’re also thinking a lot about the Gulf of Mexico – which is also closely related to our current energy crisis.

Offshore drilling on the Offshore Continental Shelf - (OCS) is an important factor in the equation which determines the cost of gasoline. Now you can actually keep an eye on the Minerals Management Service web site to see how the weather is effecting oil production in the GUlf of Mexico. For safety reasons, offshore oil rigs are shut down during dangerous conditions. But don’t worry too much, there are numerous procedures in place to make sure hurricanes don’t cause oil leaks.

Blowing away the alternative: a case for wind power

Following up on his previous post, Wiess Energy Hall Master Docent Julian Lamborn shares his case for the further development of wind power in the US: 

PICT1018
Creative Commons License photo credit: s2art

If coal-fired power stations were to be forced to sequester their greenhouse gases then production of electricity from wind generators would be cheaper than from coal.  There are optimists who believe that the present USA wind generating capacity could be raised from 1% of the country’s electricity needs to 20% (although 5% to 7% by 2020 is believed by most to be a more realistic number, particularly since some of the Federal subsidy programs for wind generators are scheduled to run out at the end of 2008!)
If you are considering putting a 2 MW wind/power generating machine in your backyard (remember that it would be some 360 ft. tall!) it would set you back around $2 million but, remember, the wind resources in the United States are vast. Using today’s technology, there is theoretically enough wind power flowing across our country to supply all of our electricity needs.  North Dakota alone could supply about one third of the nation’s electricity

Adequate winds for commercial power production are found at sites in 46 states but only a small portion of our country’s vast wind potential will likely be tapped in the near future since there has to be an integrated approach to energy management with both political and industrial participation.

Here in the USA, in Iowa, at the Iowa Stored Energy Park, a $200 million system that will take surplus electrical energy from nearby wind farms and use it to compress and store high pressure air underground will go online in 2011.  When needed, this compressed air can be released into a natural gas fired electricity generating turbine to produce some 268 MW of supplemental power.

The World Wind Energy Association anticipates that the installed capacity of wind powered generators will be around 170,000 MW by the end of 2010… this represents an 81% increase in world wind generating capacity from the end of 2007. This is the fastest growing source of alternate energy the world has at present. 

PICT1015
Creative Commons License photo credit: s2art

Although there are many NIMBY (“not in my back-yard”) activists interested in where to site wind-farms, many ornithologists interested in avian problems created by the rotor blades and many people that just don’t like change, the alternate of burning more and more coal and producing potentially more and more greenhouse gases has also to be put into the equation.  In the long term (as there always is) there will be an acceptable balance wherein, at least in the US, there will probably be wind generation producing between 5% and 10% of our daily electricity needs as part of our daily power grid input. But I’ll also bet with you, though, that none of these wind generators will be in or very close to a National Park!

The world’s oldest alternative energy source

As oil reaches a new record of $143 per barrel today, I think it’s safe to say that energy – and possible alternatives to fossil fuels – are topics on everyone’s mind. Before the development of fossil-fuel based energy technology, wind-power wasn’t an alternate form of energy – it was just the way things were done.

Julian Lamborn, Master Docent for the Wiess Energy Hall, has been kind enough to share the history of wind technology as well as share his case for developing wind energy today, in this two-part post.

Shakespeare had it right when he penned: “Blow, blow thou winter wind, thou art not so unkind.”

The winds of the world today bring with them the promise of low cost, renewable and sustainable electricity which will help feed the world’s insatiable demand for energy. One perk of using wind energy is it has a low atmospheric pollution potential.

In 2007, the globally installed capacity of electricity generation from wind increased by some 26.6% over 2006.

Ontario Turbines (2)
Creative Commons License photo credit: JoshMcConnell

The global capacity of wind-generated electricity is currently equivalent to some 1.3% of the world’s electricity needs with Germany producing the most wind power.  In fact, Germany has 22,247 megawatts of installed wind generating capacity which meets between 5% and 7% of the country’s electricity needs. 

Here in the USA (which, at 16,818 MW, is second only to Germany in installed, wind-generating capacity) about 1% of our electricity needs are met by wind generation and in Texas particularly, this number rises to 3%. Texas is also the state that uses the most wind energy.

Blood Hill Wind Farm, West Somerton, Norfolk

Creative Commons License photo credit: .Martin.

It’s all very well talking about a megawatt of wind generated power, but what can it actually do for you in your home?  In very round numbers, one megawatt of wind generating capacity typically will satisfy the electricity needs of 350 households in an industrial society, or roughly 1,000 people per year.  Although wind generators are placed in windy areas and designed to run optimally at wind speeds between 25 and 35 mph, wind does not blow all the time.  In the USA wind generators work at about 30.5% of their capacity.

But, of course, this is the modern story. 

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Creative Commons License photo credit:
Wouter de Bruijn

The first windmills were developed to automate the tasks of grain-grinding and water-pumping. The earliest-known design is the vertical axis system developed in Persia about 500-900 C.E. (although there is some suggestion that King Hammurabi of Babylon in c 1760 B.C.E used wind driven scoops to move water for irrigation).   The first known documented design of a Persian windmill is one with vertical sails made of bundles of reeds or wood which were attached to the central vertical shaft by horizontal struts. 

Windmills as we know them today from paintings by the Dutch Masters first appeared in the late Middle Ages, although it took another 500 or so years for the highly efficient mills of the Dutch to be fully developed. 

However, by the late 19th century, all the technology was in place to allow the design of the first power-generating wind-mill. This first use of a large windmill to generate electricity was a system built in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1888, by Charles F. Brush. Compared to today’s behemoths producing up to 3.6 MW or more, Bush’s machine was a lightweight producing just 12 KW!

The modern wind powered generating devices, such as those near Abilene, typically each produce 1.5 to 2 MW of power at around the same 4.5 cent cost per kilowatt-hour as electricity from coal but without the co-production of greenhouse gases