Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Policing Your Power-Hungry Appliances

Plug an appliance into Belkin's Insight monitor, and the Insight into an outlet, and you’ll get a dynamic reading of the power consumed and the costs.BelkinPlug an appliance into Belkin’s Insight monitor, and the Insight into an outlet, and you’ll get a dynamic reading of the power consumed and the costs.
Perhaps it’s a vestigial reflex from the old days, when Victorian houses still had less-than-safe 220-volt lines tacked to the walls. But for whatever reason, when we’re off to the pub in Hertfordshire, the plugs to the television, electric teakettle and other power-hungry products are yanked before we go.
This plug-pulling has a side benefit as well, given that many appliances draw power even when they’re ostensibly off. Pull the plug and you might save a few bucks (or quid) over the year.
Belkin, the computer accessories manufacturer, is hoping to drive this point home with a line of power-conserving and monitoring products that it is marketing under the Conserve brand.

The most intriguing is its Insight power monitor ($28). Plug an appliance into the Insight, and the Insight into the wall, and you’ll get a dynamic reading of the power consumed, the pounds of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emitted by using that amount of power, and the monthly or annual costs.
You can adjust the cost per kilowatt-hour in your area; leave the appliance plugged in for 45 minutes, and the Insight will begin to give you average consumption levels over time. Leave it plugged in for a week, and you’ll get a more accurate portrait of how much power and money you are burning.
To test the Insight, I plugged a wide variety of products into it, from a standard light bulb to a plasma TV, and set the power price to 20 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Assuming that I burned a 75-watt incandescent lamp for three hours each day, that electricity would cost me $17.50 per year and would create 44 pounds of carbon dioxide. By using a 16-watt compact fluorescent to create the same amount of light, that price would drop to just $3.75 per year and create 22 pounds of carbon dioxide.
The savings are similar with LED lamps. For example, Philips’s 75-watt equivalent LED uses 17 watts of power, just a shade more than a compact fluorescent bulb, but the lamp should last 25,000 hours.
If you’re worried about the amount of power your products use when they’re simply plugged in but not running, you probably can conjure up more important things with which to be concerned. Apple’s unconnected iPhone charger, and even my plasma TV, used too little energy to measure when not actually on.
When powered up, my plasma set’s energy use varied depending on how bright a scene was on the screen, but it averaged about 300 watts. Assuming one hour of TV per night, the power bill for the year would be about $17.
That’s about three times what my HP printer cost to leave it in standby mode. While I print about three pages per week, I discovered that leaving the power switch on all the time was costing me $5.38 per year in electricity.
The worst offender I measured was a small pond pump that circulates water continuously. That 115-watt device costs me a hefty $210 per year.
Belkin is not the first to offer a power-monitoring device. If you want to save a few dollars, the less-elegantly styled $20 Kill A Watt accomplishes many of the same tasks. With the Kill A Watt, you can’t measure carbon dioxide production, but you can check line voltage, amperage, and power factor.
Another Conserve product from Belkin, the $36 Valet Smart U.S.B. Charging Station, provides a well-styled base for plugging in up to four portable devices like smartphones; power is automatically cut once the devices are fully charged. Based on the almost negligible power that I found being drawn once my iPhone was fully charged, Belkin’s $36 Conserve Valet may not be a great buy.
Belkin also offers its $10 Conserve Socket, a timed socket that can be set to automatically cut off the power to an appliance after 30 minutes, three hours or six hours. Using it could take the worry out of wondering if you really did unplug the iron before you departed on your trip abroad.

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