Here’s one problem that should be relatively easy to fix: appliances that use power even when they’re not in use. The Economist has a nice summary of the problem:

Strange though it seems, a typical microwave oven consumes more electricity powering its digital clock than it does heating food. For while heating food requires more than 100 times as much power as running the clock, most microwave ovens stand idle–in “standby” mode–more than 99% of the time.

Apparently, somewhere between 5 and 13 percent of residential power is consumed by appliances that nobody is actually using. Hmph.

Now, the most interesting thing here is that different brands and models of the same kinds of appliance use wildly different amounts of power in standby mode. One compact disc player may draw 1 watt while idling; another might draw 30. Manufacturers have little incentive to improve the situation on their own, since they don’t pay the power bills; and while energy wonks are well aware of the problem, few consumers pay much attention.

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The solution here — dare I even say it — seems to be government intervention. In 2004, California passed a law that imposed limits on standby power consumption. It took effect in January, so that (according to the Economist) "it is now illegal in California to sell a television or DVD player that consumes more than three watts in standby mode." Seems like a pretty reasonable solution to me — I’ll be very interested to see if it works.

(Hat tip to Maarten.)

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