If you live in Hawaii, it’s no secret that sky-high energy prices can take up a significant chunk of your monthly budget.
But not everyone knows that many common household devices continue to drain precious kilowatts even after they’re switched off.
TVs, DVRs, computers, air conditioners and toasters are all designed with a standby feature that, while convenient, also means when they’re plugged in they are constantly zapping energy.
This feature, known as “phantom load,” “phantom power” or “standby power,” can be responsible for up to 10 percent of a household’s electricity bill. The typical American household contains 40 such products, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Americans spend $1 billion annually powering devices that are turned off, consuming the annual output of 12 power plants, according to Energy Star, an Environmental Protection Agency program that helps consumers save money by being more energy efficient.
The average monthly electric bill for Hawaii households in 2012 was $203, according to the annual energy report of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. Since 10 percent of that would be around $20, the “phantom load” tab could be about $240 a year, depending on how many devices a household uses.
Timers that shut devices off completely when they’re not in use can save consumers hundreds of dollars a year.
Nicole Brodie, a community organizer at Kanu Hawaii, explained that they initially favored neighbor island residents and people that owned high-energy devices. After that, they chose people from every area code on Oahu The first batch of devices was sent out this week.
Brodie says using the timer switchers is a no-brainer. “Once it’s hooked up, you can forget about it. You set it up and that’s it. It saves a lot of energy, and saves a lot of energy for the state,” she said.
Hawaiian Electric Company spokesman Darren Pai confirmed that phantom power adds to people’s energy bills.
“There are a number of devices in many homes that continue to use power when you’re typically not operating them. … We have a lot of resources that we provide to help educate people and help them identify areas where they can save money,” Pai told Civil Beat, such as using different light bulbs, clotheslines and water heater timers.
“There’s really no need for you to waste power when you can take some simple steps and save on your bill.”
Kanu Hawaii hopes to spread awareness and extend its reach by giving each selected household two timer switches, with the stipulation that it should be given to another household along with instructions on how to use it.
Brodie hopes that approach will spark conversations about energy. “If one person helps another person, maybe that other person can share tips that they find and share information.”
There are different types of timer devices, and they can be found at places like Home Depot, Sears or even pet stores; the kind Kanu Hawaii and Hawaii Energy are giving out range in price from $6 to $10.
The devices are simple to use, according to Brodie. She recommends having the household entertainment system or computer setup share one power strip. Then the strip can be plugged into the timer device and the whole thing can be shut off when not in use.
“Mine turns off at 11 p.m. and turns on at 6 a.m. It has an override switch, so if I really need to watch an episode of ‘Mad Men’ in the middle of the night, I can,” Brodie says.
If the house is empty during the day, that’s another good time to have everything switched off, she says.
Kanu Hawaii and Hawaii Energy are trying to help the state meet its goal of achieving 70 percent clean energy by 2030 through the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative.
According to the DBEDT report, Hawaii is the most petroleum-dependent state, with 74 percent of its electricity generated by oil, compared to less than 1 percent nationwide. The cost of electricity in the islands is three times higher than the national average; in Hawaii it’s 33 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to 11 cents per kwh nationwide.