2006-01-22

Money & Science: "Standby" Costs The Earth

Great Britons waste the equivalent of around two power stations worth of electricity each year by leaving TV sets and other gadgets on 'Standby'. In 2005-06 Environment Minister Mr.Elliot Morley (New Labour, Scunthorpe - emorleymp@aol.com), responding to an MP's question, revealed that electrical equipment in 'Standby' used roughly 7_TWh of power and emitted around 800_000_tonnes of carbon. The government [www.open.gov.uk] is currently reviewing the options of how to keep on the UK's lights in the future, at the same time as reducing the amount of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere. Energy efficiency groups are urging people to carry out their own personal energy review because homes are set to place an ever increasing demand on power supplies. The number of TVs in the UK is estimated to reach 74 million by 2020, meaning that there will be more televisions than people to watch them. Long haul If so much electricity is wasted by devices being left on 'Standby', one obvious question to ask is: do we need 'Standby' buttons on electronic devices? Definitely not, says The Liberal Democrat's Environment Spokesman Mr.Norman Baker (MP for Lewes) -- [www.normanbaker.org.uk] It was Mr.Baker's parliamentary question to 'The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' ('DEFRA') that led to the admission over emissions. [www.defra.gov.uk] He has calculated that the Carbon dioxide emissions from electrical equipment being left on 'Standby' are equivalent to 1.4_million long-haul flights. To put it another way, the entire population of Glasgow could fly to New York and back again and the resulting emissions would still be less than that from devices left in 'Standby' mode. The figures prompted a flurry of media stories and reports from environmental groups; but seven months on, does Mr.Baker think this coverage fell on deaf ears?
Norman Baker MP'The government actually seemed quite receptive. Elliot Morley paid attention and mentioned it to me; so clearly it got to the government -- a bit. 'What we have not seen yet, of course, is any change in design or change in habits. 'So I would say that it has made no difference yet -- but I have not entirely given up hope that the government may do something in the longer term.'
He told a BBC News website that he supported the idea of removing the option of putting things on 'Standby':
'At the very least, the "Standby" should go off after something like ten minutes. 'You can argue that you can use it while you pop out to put the kettle on but the idea that things are left on "Standby" for weeks while people are on holiday is just bizarre.'
Consumer choice Manufacturers include sleep modes on their products because it is what their customers want, says Mr.Matthew Armishaw from the 'DEFRA's' 'The Market Transformation Programme' ('The MTP') -- [www.mtprog.com] 'For most products, it is purely consumer-driven; it is not a technical issue.' But there are exceptions, explains Mr.Armishaw, a product manager for 'The MTP' -- a government-funded programme that works with the government and manufacturers to limit the environmental impact of products.
'Most set-top boxes need to have power all of the time because they download information from digital transmissions that update their electronic programme guide and software.'
Set-top boxes are becoming a common fixture in most homes across the UK because of plans to switch off the analogue TV signal in the near future. 'The MTP' thinks there could be around 80_million set-top boxes in the UK by 2010, requiring more than 7.3_TWh of electricity (seven point three tera Watt hours, which means 7.3 times ten exponent twelve Watt hours) . The boxes are one example of how technological advances have led to a proliferation of electronic devices in people's homes that have the 'Standby' option. A survey by 'The Energy Savings Trust' found that the average household has up to 12 gadgets left on 'Standby' or charging at any one time. It also showed that more than 740_million_GBP of electricity was wasted by things being left ticking over. So, as fears about global warming and a looming energy crisis dominate the headlines, is it time to say, 'bye-bye to 'Standby'?' It is not that simple, Mr.Armishaw told the BBC, because of the very competitive nature of the global electronic goods market.
'Most electronic goods are made in the Far East, and are designed for several different markets. 'If the UK introduced a mandatory minimum eco-standard for its TV producers [i.e. getting rid of the "Standby" button], costs would increase because a special model would have to be made for the UK market. 'A UK-imposed minimum standard might also fall foul of EU free-trading regulations.'
This could result in any improvements in environmental performance being lost as manufacturers struggle to reduce costs to remain competitive, he says.
'So, most of these things are tried on a voluntary basis at a global level before individual minimum standards are put in place.'
Gentle touch There are a number of EU-wide voluntary 'Codes of Conduct' that give manufacturers an environmental benchmark, including reducing the amount of electricity needed to power their products. 'The International Energy Agency' ('IEA') has launched a global initiative [www.iea.org] called the 'One Watt Plan', and it is something that the UK government is supporting. A 'DEFRA' spokesman told the BBC News website:
'At Gleneagles, "G8 leaders" -- led by the UK -- agreed to promote the application of the "'IEA's" "One Watt" initiative which aims to reduce "Standby" requirements for all new appliances to below "one Watt" by 2010' . 'The government is also moving to adopt the" one Watt" standard as part of our own procurement policy and will press for regulatory action at EU level.'
The gentle touch approach of voluntary measures does seem to be having an effect; figures from 'The MTP' show that the introduction of an agreement to cut set-top boxes' demand for power has delivered results. Products meeting the new eco-standard reduced consumption by around 1_TWh -- enough to power more than 200_000 homes -- and reduced carbon emissions by almost 140_000_tonnes. Mr.Baker MP favours a 'polluter pays' approach to the 'Standby' problem:
'In the end, there has to be costs in the form of manufacturers paying something to recognize the damage they are causing. 'Some of these "Standby" modes for televisions use two-thirds of the electricity that it would if it were on. 'I think some people think that "Standby" is a tiny red dot that has no impact at all.'
'The Energy Savings Trust's' (www.est.org.uk) survey found that one-in-seven people questioned thought putting devices on 'Standby' was actually more energy-efficient than switching them 'On' and 'Off'. Mr. Armishaw clears up any confusion:
'That is largely a myth. 'There may have been some issues with very old electronic components, but it is certainly not the case with today's consumer electronic goods.'
STANDBY EMISSIONS Estimated annual Carbon dioxide emissions from devices left on 'Standby': Hi-Fi/Music/Audio -- 1_600_000_tonnes VCRs -- 960_000_tonnes TVs -- 480_000_tonnes Game Consoles -- 390_000_tonnes DVDs -- 100_000_tonnes Set-top boxes -- 60_000_tonnes (Source: Energy Savings Trust)
'TV's 'sleep' button stands accused', Mark Kinver, BBC News, 2006/01/22 23:43:30 GMT Notes 1_tonne = 1_000_kg and 1_kiloWatt hour is equal to 3.6 MegaJoules which is 1 times ten exponent 3 (Watt hour) = 3.6 times ten exponent 6 (Joules) or 1_000 Watt hour = 3_600_000_Joules thus 1_Watt hour = 3_600_Joules No one knows why electricity is sold in kWh rather than MJ

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