California has been buzzing with talk about vampires, but this has nothing to do with a certain porcelain-skinned heartthrob or HBO hit series. Instead, the vampires in question are the battery chargers that have been slowly draining electricity right under our noses.
But don’t fear, the California Energy Commission is putting a stop to it with the nation’s first energy efficiency standard regulating the battery chargers that increasingly accompany our on-the-go lifestyles. Starting in February 2013, consumer chargers for cell phones, laptops, toothbrushes – you-name-it – will have to comply with the new standard, followed by industrial chargers in 2014.
The estimated 170 million chargers in California households have been wasting some serious energy. They consume 8,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity each year, and nearly two-thirds of that energy is wasted by inefficiency, often as heat. Battery chargers use energy in three different modes: when they are actively charging the battery; after the battery is fully charged, but the charger is still plugged in; and when disconnected from the device, but still plugged into an outlet. The new efficiency standards set limits to how much energy can be consumed during each of these modes, reducing wasted energy by 40 percent.
The California Energy Commission says that once fully implemented, the efficient chargers will save an estimated 2,200 GWh each year – enough to power 350,000 homes – while trimming Californians' utility bills by a total of $300 million and sparing 1 million metric tons of carbon emissions.
As we have experienced before, innovation and efficiency often bumps up the initial price of the product, but the commission estimates that the energy savings should more than compensate. For example, a more efficient charger to your laptop could cost an additional 50 cents, but will save an estimated $9 in electricity bills over its lifetime.
"Our smart phones and other electronic devices are about to get a whole lot smarter by not wasting electricity and our money," said Bernadette Del Chiaro, director of clean energy programs at Environment California. "This is a good deal for consumers and the environment and a no-brainer for California to once again provide leadership on."
Indeed, California yet again proves itself to be the Wild West trail-blazer in energy efficiency standards, setting its own rules without waiting for the nod from a similar federal regulation currently under development. But the rest of the country may not have to wait for a federal regulation to enjoy efficient chargers.
While manufacturers bear the burden of innovating and redesigning their products to meet these standards, many consumer electronics manufacturers already meet the standards proposed. And even without a national regulation, California’s larger market is a powerful incentive for manufacturers to redesign and convert their chargers to meet the higher California standards.