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Power Surge

A ‘One Watt Initiative’ aims to reduce standby power draw on all appliances to one watt by 2010. Prasanto K Roy gives you tips...

tech reviews Updated: Dec 15, 2008 15:34 IST
Prasanto K Roy

"Sab khatam, sir," said the dealer. “It sold out in four hours.” No, I wasn’t trying to buy some Black Label selling cheap. The Honda car salesman was talking about an expensive car, the first hybrid in India.

A hybrid adds battery power to petrol, pushing up mileage. And it doesn’t need to be plugged in to recharge (so it’s more practical than an electric car, which needs recharging, limiting its range).

In this mileage-crazy country, when Honda dropped the Civic hybrid’s price last month from Rs 22 lakh to Rs 14 lakh, it cleared a year’s inventory in a day – in a slow season.

My point isn’t about hybrid cars, but about energy.

I’m going to be contrarian. Among the best things to happen to our planet in 2008 was the energy crisis. Specifically, the sky-high price of petrol.

It caused car buyers (and thus vendors) in every country, even Western nations, to worry about fuel efficiency. Hummers and SUVs fell from favour. Small cars became interesting.

Yes, it did hit airlines hard, but they’re limping back. Oil has dropped a hundred dollars from July’s record $147 to $43 a barrel of crude, a three-year low. (Airfares, though, continue at a three-year high.)

Nothing to beat having a crisis that, without causing serious damage, gives a preview of times to come. Every car user now worries about fuel efficiency, as do governments and car vendors. Even luxury brands like Porsche are building oxymorons like fuel-efficient sports supercars. A BMW 520d has beaten a Toyota Prius hybrid in fuel efficiency.

The cost of backup
Energy costs are high, everywhere. But India has ‘bonus’ costs, compared to the West, or even China. That’s thanks to our power shortage. We don’t pay just high power bills. We pay to back up our homes and offices against power failures.

We buy extra equipment. Inverters, UPS systems, generators. For business, that’s ‘capital expenditure’, or capex. Power bills, on the other hand, add to operating expense.

So the bigger your power guzzlers, the more you have to spend on backup equipment.

Let’s say your home is lit by a dozen lightbulbs of 40 to 100 watts. And you have power failures of three hours a day (common in many places). You need an 800VA inverter, and two big batteries, costing you Rs 18,000.

Now, change those lightbulbs to CFL (compact fluorescent lamps). You’d spend Rs 2,000 on the bulbs, but power draw will drop by 600 watts. You can now make do with a 600VA inverter and a single battery, costing under Rs 11,000. That’s a straight capex saving, even if you ignore your power bill reduction.

What if you’ve already bought an inverter or generator? You can prolong their backup time by using low-power equipment. Change all lightbulbs to CFLs, or even LED lights. Buy electronics with energy-star ratings, where applicable. A low-power-rated airconditioner may run on your home genset, while a regular one won’t.

Stand by to burn power
Last month saw a small but significant step for energy savings. The top cellphone vendors launched an energy star rating for chargers.

Your charger wastes a half watt when plugged in, without a phone connected. Most users keep their chargers plugged in. That’s 100 megawatts watts down the drain in India.

A five-star rating would mean very little power wastage.

You might say: this doesn’t affect me. Maybe. A half watt would make very little impact on your power bill over a year. But standby, or vampire power, adds up to hundreds of watts in your home.

So on a lazy, sunny Sunday this winter, draw up a notepad and spend an hour adding it all up. It will be a useful hour spent.

Go room to room. Look for a device, anything that is on – but is not being used. Stabilisers are top culprits. If your AC is off but your stabiliser stays on, you’re wasting 50 watts right there (feel the nice warm stabiliser). If you have an accessible switch to power the whole thing off, use it. If you don’t, install one. If you have any charger or adapter plugged in – including a laptop – switch it off when not in use.

Other standby power culprits
Entertainment consoles: That TV, stereo, DVD player, cable or satellite decoder all add up to over 50 watts when not in use. If you don’t have a common power switch for the console, install one. Power off the whole thing when not in use.

A computer and UPS: For long periods of non-use, power off the UPS. (And if you have an inverter with a UPS mode, you don’t need a UPS: you save more standby power this way.)

Lights that need to be mostly on – such as in the passageway or staircase: Make sure they’re low-power CFLs, or LED lights. You can save another 50 watts that way.

Battery rechargers: When the light turns green, the battery is charged. Overcharging beyond that wastes power and reduces battery life.

A ‘One Watt Initiative’ aims to reduce standby power draw on all appliances to one watt by 2010. Till then, switching off devices when not in use saves you electricity, and also protects your electronics from power surges and spikes.

Prasanto K Roy (pkr@cybermedia.co.in) is chief editor at CyberMedia, which publishes 15 specialty titles such as Dataquest and Living Digital