Electricity wasted by appliances on standby mode could power UK and Norway

Nassos Stylianou
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A Nest thermostat (Source: Getty)

Thanks to inefficient technology, billions of connected electronic devices are costing the global economy £46bn a year through wasted energy, a new report has said.

The amount wasted last year was 400 terawatt hours (TWh), equivalent to the electricity consumed annually by the UK and Norway combined.

According to the International Energy Agency, the problem of linked-in networked appliances used to connect electronic devices together wasting energy could cost the world as much as £70bn by 2020.

In 2013, it is estimated there were 14bn network-enabled devices, such as set-top boxes, routers, modems, tablets, printers and game consoles to name a few, in homes and offices across the globe.

This number is expected to skyrocket to 50bn by the end of the decade as an increasing number of people become wired and network connectivity spreads to devices and appliances that were previously not connected, such as washing machines, refrigerators, lights and thermostats. This is known as the "internet of things", a phenomenon that is expected to enable and simplify more remote control or programming of home electronics.

The report by the Paris-based organisation raises concerns that not enough attention has been paid to this growing demand of energy as we move to increasingly digital economies. The IEA fears are that uptake of these devices in households and businesses will drive up electricity bills for consumers and global electricity demand. As a result, the need for additional energy infrastructure will shoot up.

“The proliferation of connected devices brings many benefits to the world, but right now the cost is far higher than it should be,” said IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven.

“Consumers are losing money in the form of wasted energy, which is leading to more costly power stations and more distribution infrastructure being built than we would otherwise need – not to mention all the extra greenhouse gases that are being emitted."

Much of the problem is down to the inefficiency of maintaining devices in 'standby mode', which does not disable the network connection. The term standby suggests to many that the device has gone to sleep and almost off, but in reality most network-enabled devices draw as much power in this mode than when working normally.

In 2013, the world’s networked devices consumed around 616 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity, most of which was used in standby mode. According to the IEA, around 400 TWh was wasted because of inefficient technology.

"If we adopt the best available technologies we can minimise the cost of meeting demand as the use and benefits of connected devices grows. Just by using today's best available technology, such devices could perform exactly the same tasks in standby while consuming around 65 per cent less power," said van der Hoeven.

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