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Other articles you could use in your church magazine

February Village Green Corner 2004

This article has been contributed by Troy Rhodes who wrote it for his church, South Bend Reformed Church, Indiana. It is so useful that I (web-editor) have, with his permission altered it slightly for use in magazines in Britain. He writes: Feel free to use them with proper credit so that questions, comments etc may be directed to me.

To downoad the original full (American) version as a doc file click here

Phantom Loads

What if I told you that there were a dozen or more thieves living in your house, quietly stealing 10-15% of all the electricity that you are billed for? If you are like most British people, you actually invited them into your house. Our perpetual quest for convenience has blinded us to their true nature. A perfect example is your television.

As a culture, we tend to be impatient. We are incensed if we have to wait ten seconds for the picture to come on after we turn on the TV with the remote. To cater to our desire for instant convenience, our television is actually turned on all the time even though it looks like it's off. It is constantly preheating the picture tube and powering the receiver for the remote, just waiting for our beck and call. This is called a phantom load, a device that appears to be turned off, when in fact it is still using electricity. In car terms, this is like leaving your car running all the time so you don't have to bother starting it in the morning.

If the TV were the only culprit, we might ignore it without terrible consequences. Unfortunately, there are many other examples - for example the digital clock on your stove. In fact, any device that plugs into a wall socket and has a clock is using electricity all the time. Yes, your microwave is probably a phantom load, and your VCR and probably your stereo too. Anything with a remote control is also a phantom load.

Transformers are another common phantom load, those little plastic cubes that plug into the wall to run your ink jet printer, your answering machine, your calculator and a hundred other small appliances that run on low voltage. The transformer reduces the voltage from 120 volts to something your machine can handle, typically 2-14 volts. Even if the actual device is turned off, the on/off switch is "downstream" from the transformer. So your transformer wastes electricity 24/7.

In some cases transformers are genuinely necessary. Your answering machine is supposed to be turned on all the time. But in many other cases, they just sit there quietly sipping electricity and giving nothing in return. This looks like a bleak situation because you can't turn them off; there's no switch for the transformer. That's why some clever soul invented power bars, an outlet strip with a real off switch. It's not a big job to organize your cords in the entertainment center or under the desk so that everything shuts completely off with the power bar. Or just switch it off at the wall!

Yes, it's a little more hassle to turn the power bar on before the TV or stereo. Some of you may program your VCR to catch your favorite show when you're away so it has to stay on. (We will ignore the fact that most of us should be watching less TV…) But there is still lots of room for improvement. When you're shopping for that next coffee maker or microwave, look for one that doesn't have a clock. If you need a clock, buy a clock, preferably one that runs on alkaline batteries and does not plug in.

Is this really worth all the effort? Can phantom loads use that much electricity? Let's look at the numbers. A well designed study done by th American magazine Home Power produced the following findings, "Consider that the average American household supports 1.45 kilowatt hours of phantom loads per day. America's phantom loads waste enough electricity to completely power the countries of Greece and Vietnam with enough left over for Peru. …That's approximately 43 billion kilowatt hours per year."

On the environmental front, here's how that translates:

It takes a pound of coal to produce one kilowatt hour of electricity. (That's the same amount of energy turned into heat energy by a very small electric fire, or ten small (100W) electric light bulbs or ten people) Each pound of coal burnt produces about four to five pounds of carbon dioxide. Thus:

43,000,000,000 kilowatt hours of wasted electricity =

43,000,000,000 pounds of wasted coal and

200,000,000,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (the primary greenhouse gas), yes those are billions… And what do we gain from this? When we get home, we can flop down on the couch and with a flick of the remote be mesmerized for the rest of the evening by the TV. We can have 12 clocks in our house, most of which we never use, and many of which never even get set for the correct time. Does your VCR still read 12:00 since the last power cut?

It will do us all good to get off the couch once or twice to turn various appliances on or off. Within a year or two, you'll even pay for the cost of the power bars. If you are like the average American family, your phantom loads are costing you about $37.00 (£25 or EUR 33) a year, and the British are not far behind.

There are simple ways to check exactly which appliances in your house have phantom loads. But the surest way to eliminate the electricity thieves is to put everything that has a remote control, a transformer or a digital clock on a power bar and shut it completely off when not in use.

Keep in mind that the ultimate goal of the exercise is not to save money, but to be obedient and take care of the gifts God has given us. Fossil fuels are an irreplaceable resource. We live in one of the richest nations in the world at a time in history when there is more personal wealth and luxury than at any other time. We should respond to these blessings with daily gratitude, stewardship and common sense frugality.

Apply the Faith

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