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Growing energy consumption by plug-in devices in Minnesota homes

June 04, 2010

Growing energy consumption by plug-in devices in Minnesota homes

For Immediate Release: Friday, June 4, 2010

(ST. PAUL, MN)   Saving money on energy may be easier than Minnesotans think.  A new study commissioned by the Minnesota Department of Commerce's Office of Energy Security (OES) found that five minutes spent changing a simple computer setting could save the average Minnesota family $120 per year on its electricity bill.  The savings can be achieved simply by putting a computer to sleep when inactive.

The study, conducted by the Energy Center of Wisconsin (Energy Center) with grant money from OES and Minnesota Power, highlights ways for consumers to waste less energy - and money - while still running their favorite electronics.  The study focuses on the growing impact of plug-in devices such as computers and TVs on home energy usage and proposes different ways that utility conservation programs can encourage homeowners to take action to reduce unnecessary energy use by plug-in devices.

Plug-load devices, which include everything from computers to cell phone chargers, account for 15 to 30 percent of home electricity usage, according to the study.  Over time, even rarely-used devices can cost consumers as they continue to use electricity while connected to an outlet, regardless of whether they are turned on or off.

"Increasing energy efficiency begins at home," said William Glahn, director of the OES and deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Commerce.  "While much is already known about large-scale energy use in the home such as space heating, this study is one of the first to focus on plug-load electronics.  Minnesota consumers can see real energy savings by taking some easy and inexpensive steps."

Other tips from Energy Center include recycling old, secondary refrigerators or replacing them with new ones.  Minnesotans holding onto old appliances may end up spending more money than if they were to replace them with new, high-efficiency models.  Refrigerators built in the 1970s use five times the amount of electricity of present-day models, according to the Energy Data Sourcebook from Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory.

Conducted between December 2008 and October 2009, the Energy Center study used telephone and mail surveys to collect information from Minnesota households on the quantity and types of plug-in devices in the homes.  The study culminated with on-site metering of the devices in 50 homes to analyze how the devices are used and identify opportunities to reduce waste.  The study was unique in that it included interviews with the homeowners to gauge their willingness to perform specific actions to reduce energy waste. 

The report is available on the OES website at www.energy.mn.gov .  To find the study, enter 'plugging into savings' in the search box in the upper-right corner of the screen, and click on the first link shown in the search results.