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It’s Halloween on Thursday, so we thought we’d take a look at something scary that’s probably lurking in your home: energy vampires.
Also known as phantom power and ghost load, the term refers to items plugged into an outlet that draw power even when they aren’t being used.
“It may not seem like a big problem,” said Michael Goldschmidt, a housing and environmental design expert at the University of Missouri. But an average home, he said, racks up roughly a whole month’s worth of vampire power annually. “It’s a really big deal.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council puts the cost at about $165 per United States household, or $19 billion nationally. That translates to around 44 million tons of carbon dioxide, or 4.6 percent of the country’s total residential electricity generation. In an office, things like printers, computers and phone chargers can consume a quarter of a building’s energy.
You can get a general sense of the vampire power in your home by checking your energy meter during low-use times like late at night or early morning. Then, to see which household items are frequent phantoms, you could try a free smartphone app called Dr. Power. It has a library of more than 100,000 appliances and devices. Another option is a Kill-a-Watt meter, which measures how much energy individual appliances are using. They’re available at most hardware stores and can sometimes be borrowed at public libraries.
When it comes to reduction, Lisa Schmidt, chief executive of Home Energy Analytics, a California-based start-up that develops energy analysis software, recommends focusing on the higher consumption items first. “You may find one device is taking up 30 percent of the phantom load,” she said. “That’s the one you want to focus on.”
Home entertainment systems are a common energy suck, Ms. Schmidt said, especially surround-sound stereo systems. Heated towel racks are an increasingly common electricity hog. There are also things that people rarely use but keep plugged in, like the set-top box in the spare bedroom. Older items, like VCRs, also tend to be less energy efficient.
In the case of those power-hungry devices, the savings can be surprising. Shutting-down a computer, for example, can cut energy use by 65 percent compared with leaving the device in idle mode.
Because unplugging and re-plugging devices can be tedious and difficult, Ms. Schmidt recommends smart power strips. There’s a whole range of options, including motion-sensing versions and strips that can be controlled remotely on your phone.
There are limits to what can be unplugged or managed. Your main refrigerator, for instance, should be kept on. Some older internet routers and TV cable boxes can crash when unplugged, though that’s fairly uncommon. And safety devices like smoke detectors should always be on.
Overall, though, slaying those energy vampires can lead to significant energy savings and that means lower greenhouse gas emissions. And, according to Mr. Goldschmidt, any investments in strips, plugs or other energy-management technology should have a very quick payback.
“It saves you money and you’re helping the environment,” he said.
One of the central planks in Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016 was his promise to save coal. So you might think that the bankruptcy filing this week by Murray Energy, one of the largest privately owned coal mining operations in the United States, would hurt the president in coal country in next year’s election.
Murray Energy, after all, was the latest in a string of coal companies to go belly up amid a shift to renewable energy and cleaner-burning gas. One respected analyst placed a big share of the blame for those bankruptcies squarely on the president’s shoulders.
“Trump failed. It’s that simple,” said Tom Sanzillo, director of finance at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a nonprofit research firm that supports the shift to renewable power. “They had the keys to the kingdom, the coal industry did, and they couldn’t fix it.”
But will that translate into lost votes for President Trump in coal country? Maybe not, other analysts said.
“Politically in West Virginia I don’t think it’s going to change things,” said John C. Kilwein, an associate professor of political science at West Virginia University.
“The narrative has been created in a pretty shrewd way,” Professor Kilwein said. “It’s, ‘Look we’re struggling against these liberals and these environmentalists. At least Trump is trying for us.’”
“I can almost guarantee he’s going to win the state,” he said.
Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, a think tank that supports fossil fuels, agreed. “Symbolically it’s frustrating,” he said of the Murray Energy bankruptcy.
But, he added: “I don’t think it impacts Trump’s standing in coal country at all. And, more importantly, where are they going to go?”
Mr. Sanzillo said coal workers were realistic about the future of the industry but wanted to hear about concrete plans for job creation in a post-coal world.
“I think people in coal country know that the industry is in decline and that’s pretty permanent. The question for whether or not that hurts Trump is really a question for the Democrats,” he said. “What are they offering?”