Energy Vampires Suck Savings

By now, many of us have heard of “vampire” energy, or “phantom” energy; it’s that pesky energy that’s still being used by your plugged in appliances or equipment, even when they are switched off (if you haven’t heard about vampire energy, check out this short, fun video for a quick description; this video is shared for educational purposes, not to promote a particular product). A writer at the New York Times recently wrote an article about her own energy use, and it got me thinking about vampire loads, and how residential energy loads could translate to other industries (like education). 

Her article referenced a study done in California by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The NRDC found that in an analysis of California homes, 23% of the energy used in those homes came from idle appliances, through vampire loads. Almost a quarter of residents’ energy bills are due to equipment and appliances that aren’t being actively used; equipment such as microwaves, stoves/ovens, refrigerators, TVs, cable boxes, modems, and chargers. Now, you may not be able to unplug your refrigerator without your food going bad, but there are certainly ways to unplug microwaves and cable boxes when they are not being used. One of the most common suggestions is to plug multiple pieces of equipment into a power strip so you can easily just flip the switch and turn many products off at once. 

Now, let’s think about our classrooms. Teachers have all sorts of great teaching tools, such as smartboards, projectors, document readers, and lab equipment, that must be plugged into the wall to function. There are also a lot of personal items that find their way into classrooms, to make spaces feel a little more homey and comfortable: lamps, standing fans, mini-fridges and microwaves, and radios/speakers. I’m not saying that all these need to be completely removed from the classroom (although a 3.2 cu. ft. mini-fridge can cost over $400 per year to run1, so removing items like this can save a significant amount of money…). But a first step to changing usage behavior could be to get all teachers power strips that they can use to turn all these pieces of equipment off at once, overnight and over the weekends. 

There are many simple solutions like this that just require a little knowledge and dedication to shift the mindset of electronic use in the classroom. Kids are also great advocates, and can be excellent school energy monitors. Once they understand how to more effectively use and save energy, they can help remind and support teachers to be better energy stewards themselves.


1 Estimate based on personal calculation, using mini-fridge specifications from Home Depot, assumed operating time of 24 hrs/day, 12 months a year, and an average electric rate in AZ of $.13/kWh.