February 13, 2012

Pinellas County Extension Shines a Light on Energy Consumption

James Stevenson
Sr. Extension Specialist,
Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project

Through its Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project, Pinellas County Extension is promoting a new gadget that aims to get citizens more energy conscious and eco-friendly.

The Kill-A-Watt™ Energy Monitor is a simple tool used to see how much energy the devices in a home are actually using, whether they are on or off. Users simply plug the monitor into an outlet, plug an appliance into the monitor, follow The Kill-A-Watt’s instructions and watch it work. The monitor measures various aspects of electrical consumption, from voltage of an outlet to watts and kilowatt hours. Users can find out exactly how much energy and money is being consumed by most of their household electronics.

Pinellas County Extension and the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative have come together to make these Kill-A-Watt monitors available for check-out at their libraries to make the assessment of personal energy consumption even easier. Stop by your local library to check out a monitor and discover how much energy could possibly be saved in your home.

Extension specialists will also be holding upcoming classes at select libraries to further explain how the monitors work and to give easy tips to make a home more energy efficient in an effort to decrease electric bills and increase environmental friendliness.

To sign up for a class, visit and click on the date of the class you would like to attend. The class is free and registration is very easy.

It is estimated that Americans waste about $5 BILLION dollars on stand-by energy loss. Stand-by energy is the energy consumed by electronic devices when they are “off.” During the past decade, we have seen a tremendous amount of devices that consume energy when not in use. Just think of all the portable electronics that require charging that most of us own today. Those chargers and power adaptors (or “wall warts”) may be consuming electricity even when the device is not attached! Try to look for the little green or red lights lit up on the electronics throughout the house—even when turned off—and then ask yourself how those little lights are being powered. By sheer volume, those small amounts of wasted energy certainly add up.

The Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory operated by the University of California tested hundreds of electronic devices that were turned off to search for phantom energy loss. Their results were surprising. A full list of their results can be found here but some of the most shocking came from seemingly innocuous sources. Of 52 desktop computers tested, standby power use ranged between 0 and 9.21 watts when “off.” In sleep mode the energy use was between 1.1 and 83.3 watts/hour, averaging 21.13 watts/hour in sleep mode. Set-top digital cable boxes with DVR consumed around 44 watts/hour whether on, off, recording or not. Similarly, wall-charger units are thought to consume as much as 65% of their capacity even when not charging a device.

By using a Kill-a-Watt energy monitor you can discover what devices in your home might be consuming energy when not in use. The monitor is plugged into an outlet, and then the device you want to test is plugged into the monitor. By selecting the “WATT” switch on the device, a screen displays what that device is using at that minute. You can leave the device (let’s say a DVD player) plugged into the monitor for 24 hours, and get an idea of how much the DVD uses when in use and in stand-by mode by selecting the “kW” switch. A DVD may consume 13 watts of electricity in stand-by mode. That may only be pennies a day, but imagine how many DVD players exist in Pinellas County, in Florida, and in America.

UF’s state specialist for housing and community development, Dr. Randy Cantrell, recently installed a similar device in his home in order to expose his family to various practices that consumed electricity. He cautions everyone to keep an open mind when using such devices because although his wife was intrigued, she preferred to blow dry her hair without guilt and interruption of viewing how much electricity she was using. The point is that small steps should be taken forward and backward in your pursuit of improving the efficiency of your home. Although the power monitor is no longer used in his household, all members are much more aware of the information that it revealed to them while it was in use.

Solutions to this “phantom energy” loss may be to simply unplug devices when not in use. If you do not use the automatic brew feature of your coffee maker, unplug it! That little clock is wasting energy. It is important to use computer settings to completely shut down after a period of inactivity. And the “peripherals” that accompany PCs and TVs; the printers, speakers, game consoles, etc., together consume a lot of your watts. A “smart strip” power strip can take the guess-work out of this energy loss. Smart strips detect when a device (TV, PC) goes into stand-by mode and will completely power off the peripherals. Learn about the Kill-a-Watt, smart strips and more at one of our classes.

We hope to see you at one of our upcoming classes, but if you decide to check a monitor out on your own, we’d love to hear about your experience. Email and let us know what you discovered!

Upcoming Kill-a-Watt Classes 2012:
Tuesday March 13, 7pm-8pm, Dunedin Public Library
Saturday March 31, 1:30pm-2:30pm, Clearwater East Branch Library
Thursday April 12, 6:30pm-7:30pm, Safety Harbor Public Library
Thursday April 26, 1:30pm-2:30pm, Oldsmar Public Library
Monday May 7, 1:00pm – 2:00pm, St. Pete Beach Public Library


Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory/Standby Power

Randall Cantrell, PhD, Housing and Community Development, Assistant Professor, University of Florida Family Youth and Community Sciences

Florida Energy Systems Consortium, Whole-House Systems Approach to Energy Efficiency

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