A Simple Change to Computer Settings Reduces Home Electricity Use
First-in-the-nation study shows where consumers will pull the plug on home electronics
MADISON, Wisconsin (June 1, 2010)Utilizing a one-time change to the computer power management setting on a home computer is expected to save more than half of one month's electric usage each year for the average residential electric customer. This finding emerged from a year-long field study of consumer behavior and usage patterns around consumer electronics in homes across the state of Minnesota.
The Energy Center of Wisconsin completed the study with the funding support of the Minnesota Office of Energy Security and Minnesota Power Company. "Home electronics is a growing portion of each household's electricity usage, close to 20 percent," said Scott Pigg, co-principal author of the study.
"We're finding that these devices in total can use more electricity in one year than a major appliance, like a refrigerator. The difficulty is that this usage is spread over 30 to 40 devices in the average home. This made it more difficult to identify where the energy savings might lie," he said.
Home electronics are a newly emerging portion of residential electric use: federal data show that in 1980, the average home had only three electronic devices.
Past studies have examined either total usage or consumer attitudes, but the Energy Center's study is the first study in the nation to examine usage data and consumer attitudes together.
"Up until now we didn't have a good in-depth picture of how these appliances were used and what consumers were willing to turn off," said Ingo Bensch, co-principal author of the study. "By gathering energy data and pointing out usage that occurred when no one was using these devices, nearly every household expressed interest in making an easy change to reduce its energy use," he said. "This finding points the way for program opportunities for utilities," he added.
Other opportunities for consumers lie in turning off printers, space heaters, dehumidifiers and little-used entertainment devices. Consumers were more reluctant to unplug cable TV set-top boxes and satellite TV equipment, citing the complexity of these systems. "Reducing energy use when these devices aren't being used is probably best addressed at the manufacturing level," added Pigg.
In the study researchers used in-home metering devices to measure power draws and electricity consumption for more than 700 devices in 50 homes, including data on active-mode and standby power. Researchers also interviewed homeowners about their energy awareness and usage habits.
More details including a summary video of the findings and a web cast of the study's methodology are available at www.ecw.org/plugload.
The Energy Center of Wisconsin is an independent nonprofit that explores ideas and solutions to energy challenges. Based in Madison, the Energy Center conducts objective research to better understand how consumers use energy and to identify barriers that may prevent more efficient use. Initiatives include design services and continuing education for architects, engineers and builders and field research to improve the performance of new and existing buildings.