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What is a phantom load?

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Read any article on how to measure energy use or how to save money on your electric bill and you’re sure to hear about phantom loads. But what exactly are they?

What is a phantom load?

There are a variety of terms used to describe what we are talking about today. In addition to the phrase “phantom charge,” you may also hear phrases like vampire draw, vampire power, vampire energy, phantom charge, or standby power to describe it.

Ultimately, what all of those terms describe is a situation where an appliance or device consumes power when not in active use.

When you’re watching TV, the electricity consumed by your TV is not phantom load or standby power, because the electricity is doing the main, active task the TV is designed to do. The electricity consumed by the TV when it is turned off, on the other hand, represents the phantom load.

However, there’s more to the situation than just wasted power, so let’s take a closer look at the benefits and drawbacks of power-draining devices when you’re not directly using them.

The advantages of phantom loads

While it would be easy to immediately think that all phantom loads are inherently wasteful, it’s not that simple.

Typically, that “phantom” power isn’t simply wasted on anything, but is instead used to keep the device in a ready state.

Remote controlled devices such as TVs, stereos and the like have a phantom charge to at least keep the IR or Bluetooth receiver active so you can turn them on remotely.

Without that phantom load, you’d have to turn the device on with a switch on the device itself before the remote would work. Similarly, if you have smart devices like smart plugs or smart light bulbs, they need to draw a small amount of power to be ready to respond to commands.

Phantom loads also enable “instant on” functionality in appliances and devices that require a warm-up period or similar. It is less common today than in the past, but a common example in the 20th century was CRT tube televisions. It took a tube TV several seconds to fully heat up and display the picture clearly, so the manufacturers designed the tubes to stay in a kind of preheated state, so that when you flip the TV over, it doesn’t look like you’re expecting a Heater. for warm up.

A device that maintains a phantom charge also enables standby and background functionality. On the light end of things, you have a small amount of power consumed to keep things like your microwave clock on. An always-on network DVR consumes much more power, but ensures that your shows are recorded and available for playback throughout your home.

Similarly, modern game consoles with features that allow you to buy a game online or select it from your phone and download it to the console, without being at the console, maintain a higher phantom power load to stay in standby mode permanent, ready for remote download. contents.

Speaking of game consoles, battery-powered handheld consoles like the Nintendo Switch, as well as portable electronic devices in general that are left on their respective chargers, will phantom charge because they draw power to keep the battery charged and the device ready to go. function. use.

The Disadvantages of Phantom Loads

All of the benefits just discussed focus on user comfort and ease of use. Naturally, the disadvantages center around excessive energy consumption.

Historically, phantom loads were a much bigger problem than they are today. There was no real pressure to design devices with no or very small phantom loads.

It wasn’t unusual to find devices in your home with phantom loads in excess of 10 watts for trivial things like keeping the clock and setting up a VCR. Amazingly, before initiatives like Energy Star and the One Watt Initiative, standby power use accounted for more than 10% of residential energy consumption.

As a result of such initiatives, the demand for standby power from many electronic devices has plummeted in recent years. Many devices that used to draw as much power as a small light bulb while idle now only draw a few watts or even half a watt or less.

Ironically, however, while individual devices are becoming more efficient on standby, we also have many more devices than we used to in our homes. Therefore, it is good to replace an old device that consumes 10 watts in standby mode with a device that consumes only 1 watt.

However, if the household now has 20 more devices than before, the benefit per device is higher, but the net gain from idle power consumption ends up being higher than before despite the improvements.

All this talk about phantom loads may make you curious about how much phantom load various devices in your home have, as well as what the total phantom load of your home is. We’d never leave it hanging, so check out our guide to measuring phantom loads to get to the bottom of things.

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