It's been dubbed "vampire power"--the electricity that is sucked out of your home by inefficiencies and devices that draw electricity whenever they're plugged in, even when they're not turned on.
For nearly four decades, California's Energy Commission has led a crusade to drive a stake into vampire power by setting efficiency standards for a wide range of appliances, from refrigerators to flatscreen televisions.
California even beat the federal government to the punch by a year by moving to phase out the classic 100 watt lightbulb with the improvements in lighting efficiency that have occurred since Thomas Edison's day.
Now the Commission is going after the devices that recharge the batteries for your ever growing collection of portable electronics, from cellphones to music players, laptops to power tools. The average home now has 11 battery chargers, according to Commission spokesman Adam Gottlieb.
"Approximately two-thirds of the power used to power our plug-in devices is wasted," Gottlieb said.
The commission adopted battery charger standards on Thursday intended to save as much as 2.2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity every year, enough to power a city the size of Bakersfield, at a savings of $306 million.
The federal government has also been looking at national standards for battery charger efficiency, but has yet to take action. Some industry groups opposed California doing so on the grounds that this could lead to manufacturers having to re-engineer their products twice if there is a difference in the standards. This argument did not persuade the California Commission to put it off.
Consumers will not be required to stop using their old chargers. It's expected the new standards could add cost to some devices, perhaps 40 cents for an electric toothbrush, and 50 cents for a laptop computer. In return, Gottlieb said the toothbrush buyer would save $1.19 a year in electricity costs, and the laptop would use about $9 less in electricity.
Many chargers continue to draw power even after bringing batteries up to a full charge, and even after the batteries are removed. The only way to stop the draw is to unplug those chargers. But that often goes undone.
"I know," said Tim Wess, a software engineer from Encino, who acknowledges that he seldom unplugs his chargers. "I really have no excuse other than laziness," he smiled. The savings promised by the new standards will not rely on consumers remembering to unplug their chargers between use, Gottlieb said.
New standards for industrial euqipment using chargers, such as electric forklifts, will take effect in 2014. Compliance for small commercial charges, such as two-way radios, won't be required until 2017.
With the relentless growth in consumer electronics, the average American uses 40 percent more electricity than 30 years ago. But demand in California has remained flat, according to Gottlieb, crediting conservation measures, inlcuding the efficiency standards.
He said the benefits go beyond the money savings. Less power consumption means less pollution, and defers the need to build additional power plants.
And reduces the number of power vampires.