Home Electronics

Our "plug-ins" consume more electricity each year!

Going through Grandma’s basement was like going through a museum and appreciating a simpler time. In the corner was a 1940s Zenith radio that hummed for 30 seconds when you plugged it in. Once it warmed up, you could adjust the amplitude and listen to at least one of five radio stations within 30 miles. Along another wall stood a 1960s Curtis Mathis console television that looked like a buffet table. Using a remote that ran on a nine-volt battery, you could turn it on and see the tubes in the back of the set glow and emit a black-and-white picture in the front. These were Grandma’s connections to the outside world. A little trickle of electricity was all she needed.

According to the World Bank, in 1966, the average American household used about 5,590 kilowatt-hours every year. As of 2013, that number shot up to about 12,985 kilowatt-hours annually. While it seems we still only need a little tickle of electricity to keep us connected today, our “plug-ins” consume much more electricity each year than Grandma’s radio and TV ever used in their lifetimes.

Today, the vast majority of home electronics energy use — up to 90 percent by some estimates — is consumed by home entertainment systems and home office equipment. The remaining 10 percent consists of many small energy users, including portable devices with battery chargers. Although each of these products uses a relatively small amount of electricity on an individual basis, they continue to proliferate rapidly and represent an opportunity to keep overall electronics energy use in check.

Did you know the Xbox 360 uses 187 watts of electricity? If you have active gamers in your home, this could add up to more than $100 a year to operate. But, wait! You have a television connected to the Xbox, too. Add another 20 to 100 percent to the first total, and you start to appreciate the cost of connectivity.

While the most energy-efficient HDTV costs around $30 a year to power, most power-hungry models can add more than $160 to the electric bill each year. Then, consider you probably have a computer, laptop and/or notepad. Any cell phones? Other remotes? Security systems? A lot of little devices that keep us connected add up to significant energy use.  Here are some ideas on how to manage them all: 

  • A cable box can draw 28 watts when it’s recording a show, and 26 watts when off. Even if the TV is never on, the box will consume more than 225 kilowatt-hours annually. That potentially translates to more than $25. Put your set (or entertainment center) on a power strip with a master switch if you don’t use it much. Power everything down until the next time you need it.
  • Unplug chargers and power supplies you typically leave plugged in. Leaving a laptop computer plugged in, even when it’s fully charged, can use 4.5 kilowatt-hours of electricity in a week, or about 235 kilowatt-hours a year.
  • Don’t use a gaming console to stream movies. They can use 45 times more power than streaming consoles, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
  • If your television ispre-2000, know that new set technology can be more than five times more efficient for the same size of screen. Many hours of use can add up!
  • Power down computers and office equipment at the end of the day. Contrary to what some think, powering electronics “up” and “down” does not impact the overall life of today’s electronics and does, indeed,save energy!
  • When shopping for new electronics, look for the ENERGY STAR label. This assures you are getting a minimum level of energy efficiency and quality.

For additional ideas on how you can save a little more with your electronics, contact your local electric utility. You may even find you are eligible for incentives for helping with the cost of other energy-saving home improvements.

About Cory Fuehrer

Cory, NPPD Energy Efficiency Program Manager, leads the implementation of balanced energy solutions that meet environmental, efficiency and economic needs. Cory is involved with the EnergyWise℠ energy efficiency programs that assist customers optimize their use of energy in the residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural sectors.