Slay Energy Vampires
for Surprising Savings

Posted by Susan M. Brackney

You may think your library is pretty energy efficient, but chances are you can do even better in the energy conservation department—and you can save a surprising amount of money in the process! Purchasing Energy Star appliances for the break room and making sure the staff turns off the lights in areas that get very little use are great starts, but it turns out there is a lot more you can do to lighten your library’s energy load.

vampire_plugIn commercial buildings, more than a third of the energy used goes toward what energy conservation gurus call “plug and process loads” or PPLs. These are energy loads that aren’t related to creature comforts like lighting, heating, or cooling but instead refer to most everything else—computers and printers, coffee pots, microwave ovens, and much more. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) predicts that by 2030, overall commercial building energy consumption will grow by 24 percent and PPL energy consumption will increase by a whopping 49 percent.


Find Your Phantom Loads

PPLs are also known as “phantom loads” or “energy vampires.” (No, not that kind.)

These energy vampires tend to hide in plain sight. What are the quickest ways to spot them? Turn off the lights and look for things that glow. In the break room, that might be the light display on a clock radio, microwave oven, or coffee maker. In your meeting rooms, you might notice televisions, DVD players, and DVRs.

Electronic devices with remote controls, keypads, or external power supplies are also prime suspects. Computers, modems, printers, and large screens draw a significant amount of standby power, too. Here’s a fairly comprehensive list of culprits.

In its “Assessing and Reducing Plug and Process Loads in Office Buildings” quick-start guide, theNREL_quick_start_guide National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) offers comprehensive tools to help you inventory your building’s PPLs and calculate the amounts of energy and money you might be able to save.

Affiliated with the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, NREL practiced what it preaches and has been able to save about $58,000 per year at its Research Support Facility as a result.


Start Saving

Think you’ve identified your energy vampires? Now it’s time to vanquish them—and start saving money. (A general rule is one watt for one year equals one dollar.)


UNPLUG—It’s simple enough, right? Just unplug appliances and electronics when you don’t need them. Have a large TV monitor in a meeting room that doesn’t get much use? A single TV can draw an average 3.06 watts when powered off, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. That may not seem like much, but it all adds up.

In particular, mobile phone, laptop, and other battery-powered appliance chargers are notoriously thirsty for energy. Mobile phone chargers use about 3.68 watts when actively charging a phone, 2.24 watts when the phone is fully charged but still plugged in, and .26 watts when plugged in but not connected to the phone itself. As for laptop computer chargers, they draw about 44.28 watts when fully on and charging, 29.48 watts when fully on and charged, 8.9 watts when the computer is off but still plugged in, and 4.42 watts if plugged in without a computer attached.


POWER STRIPS AND TIMERS—Using a power strip as a main “hub” to power a bank of computers and printers or, say, the audio-visual equipment in a meeting space makes switching everything off more convenient.

You can also use electrical outlet timers to power down devices during off hours. Doing so can save about 30 kilowatt-hours and $30 per year for every piece of equipment that uses an electrical outlet timer, according to NREL.


SLEEP MODE—It may seem like a pain, but disabling screen savers and instead setting up computers to go into “sleep” mode after 15 minutes of inactivity is worthwhile. NREL estimates a savings of 500 kilowatt-hours and $500 per year for every desktop computer with power management settings enabled.


REPLACE WHAT’S OLD—Finally, you might consider replacing some of your older electronics with newer devices with lower standby power loads. You can save about 10 kilowatt-hours and $10 per year for every device without status lights or complicated displays.

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