A phantom load is anything that burns electricity even when the item is turned off or providing no real benefit. As of 2013 there are many, many consumer electronics that are phantom loads.
Phantom loads seem to be quite controversial these days.
You have the tree hugger on one side that claims phantom loads are evil and a huge waste of electricity.
Then you have the electrician who says “I have been an electrician for 30 years and there ain’t no way unplugging your laptop will save any electricity”.
I have been operating my home with solar energy and have been off of the power grid for over twelve years and I can tell you without a doubt that phantom loads are a waste of energy. I’m not saying they are the biggest waste of energy, but they are a waste of energy indeed.
How To Tell if Something is a Phantom Load:
Any electric device with a remote control is a phantom load. Televisions, DVD players, VCRs, video game consoles, satellite TV receivers, stereos, surround sound units, clocks, air conditioners, ceiling fans and floor fans (and far too many others) have remote controls. They use electricity 24 hours a day just to be ready for you to push that button on the remote to turn them on. Some of these items consume the same amount of power whether they are turned off or turned on. However, most of these items will use full power when turned on and a fraction of that consumption while turned off.
Any device with a wall wart or external power supply is a phantom load. These could be almost any devices like telephones, cordless telephones, fax machines, printers, calculators, security systems, kitchen appliances, clocks, iPod bases, mp3 players, wireless network components, internet receivers and baby monitors.
Theses wall warts take 120 volt AC electricity and reduce it to a lower voltage at AC or DC.
They are almost always extremely inefficient. It would not be uncommon at all for these wall cubes to be less than 50% efficient, meaning they lose over 50% of the energy they convert. It is easy to see how much a wall cube is wasting. Simply plug it in for a few hours and touch it. The hotter it is, the more energy being wasted. The more accurate method of figuring out the efficiency is by using a Kill A Watt Meter which we will discuss later.
Any device that charges batteries is a phantom load. Cordless tools, rechargeable battery chargers, laptops, children’s toys, cell phones, remote control cars and airplanes, tablets such as iPads™, mp3 players such as an iPod have internal batteries that are charged from a wall outlet. These items consume full power until the battery is full and a portion of full power after they are charged. Even though they are finished charging the battery, they still consume electricity. It is best to unplug these items as soon as they are fully charged.
Any device with a clock is a phantom load. These include but are not limited to clock radios, kitchen ranges, microwaves, DVD players, VCRs, stereo systems, security systems and many more. These electronic items use electricity 24 hours a day just to keep time.
How Much Phantom Power is Being Wasted?
Phantom loads are responsible for 6-10% of the average home’s electricity bill. The average electricity consumption of a home varies from house to house and country to country.
Here are some averages:
Canada 12,836 kWh per year 1070 kWh per month
USA 10,654 kWh per year 888 kWh per month
Japan 5,945 kWh per year 495 kWh per month
Europe 4,667 kWh per year 389 kWh per month
However we need to do much better than that in our solar/off grid homes.
We cannot afford to waste any electricity if possible. It costs far too much to produce our own energy.
A Kill-A-Watt meter is a meter you can plug into the wall and then plug your appliance into.
It will then record power consumption.
You can measure instantaneous consumption or leave the appliance plugged in for a while and measure the total consumption for an hour, day, week or month.
It is probably the most important tool you can use to reduce your electricity consumption.