What eats all the electrons — or — understanding household power consumption

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The average electricity consumption of European households shrunk by 7% between 2005 and 2010. The reason for this telling figure is that they tend to equip themselves with more and more “sustainable” home devices, which are increasingly electricity efficient. Nevertheless, household appliances are still a significant burden on our power bills. Which appliances consume the most? To what extent does the latest innovative technology yield electrical efficiency and cut global consumption?

French households very well equipped

Household equipment in French homes has significantly improved in the last years, especially if you look at a few landmark devices. For instance, 99% of households own a fridge (compared to 80% in 1970) and 52% own a dishwasher (3% in 1970). More recent devices have proven quite successful: 85% of households own a microwave oven (12% in 1990) and 65% owned a computer in 2009 (9% in 1990).

Heating and cooling: two essential needs and the...

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"He who overcomes others has force; he who overcomes himself is strong." -- Lao-tzu, Chinese philosopher

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It's an often quoted statement:

Standby power consumption is about 10% of household electricity usage.

But where does this rule of thumb come from, and is it accurate?

Standby Electricity vs. Standby Energy

The first thing to clarify is to say that we are talking about electricity consumption, not all energy consumption.

If you do some research, you might find charts like this one from the Your Home Technical Manual. It shows that Standby only accounts for around 3% of total energy usage.

Many homes in Australia use natural gas or LPG for hot water and wood or gas for heating. This means that the ultimate percentage of electricity usage, in this case, might be up around 5%.

This is on the low side of all the estimates I have seen.

So, where did the 10% come from?

It seems that the 10% figure came from a very detailed study of standby power (PDF) consumption back in 2005.

This intrusive survey covered...

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