Standby Britain: How it fuels our energy crisis

Appliances on standby pump one million tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Wasted energy of appliances on standby could power 400,000 homes. Up to 85 per cent of power used by a video recorder is consumed on standby. Government says Britain would save 240,000 tons of C0<SUB>2</SUB> emissions by switching off televisions
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The Independent Online

One million tons of a damaging greenhouse gas is pumped into the atmosphere each year by televisions, DVD players and other appliances left on standby in British living rooms.

One million tons of a damaging greenhouse gas is pumped into the atmosphere each year by televisions, DVD players and other appliances left on standby in British living rooms.

Gadgets apparently turned off, but with their standby lights illuminated, are a little-recognised but significant contributor to global warming, figures released yesterday show.

Each year they waste enough electricity to power a city the size of Birmingham for a year or keep Britain's street lights burning for four years, and are a major contributor to the emissions which are polluting the atmosphere. Millions of "sleeping" video recorders, set-top boxes, washing machines and radios in homes and offices accounted for one million tons of carbon emissions, approaching 1 per cent of the nation's total.

Researchers said they represented the equivalent of enough carbon dioxide to fill 80 million double decker buses. Up to 85 per cent of the power used by an average video recorder is consumed while it is not in use, while many appliances use as much power on standby as they do when they are turned on.

Next month, Tony Blair will host a meeting of G8 leaders at Gleneagles in Scotland, where agreement to take steps to combat climate change will be seen as a key element in the success or otherwise of the summit.

Campaigners urged the Prime Minister yesterday to tackle domestic sources of climate change as well as approaching the issue from a global perspective. Estimates suggest that electrical goods on standby across the G8 nations waste the equivalent of the electricity generated by 20 power stations.

Martyn Williams, of Friends of the Earth, said: "To achieve Mr Blair's ambitions at the G8 he also has to deal with the myriad issues at home that will cut carbon emissions. He has to cut British emissions by 3 per cent a year and dealing with this issue will go some way towards that."

Ministers insist they are leading efforts to tackle the problem. Elliot Morley, the Environment minister, will sign a new EU directive next month aimed at cutting European energy consumption by 20 per cent by setting standards for electrical appliances, boilers and fridges.

But environmentalists are demanding tougher international rules to cut the power that appliances use while on standby. Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrats' environment spokesman, who obtained yesterday's figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said: "I am astounded by this. This is absolutely shocking with climate change the biggest threat we face appliances are pumping out millions of tons of greenhouse gases for no good purpose whatsoever.

"Manufacturers should ensure that appliances should only be put on standby by choice. When things are turned off they should stay off."

Mr Williams, of FoE, said cutting waste from equipment could meet a quarter of Britain's annual emissions target. "This is a big climate change problem. You start off with a television, then you have a video, then a DVD and then a set-top box. We can agree rules to prevent children injuring themselves with toys; why can't they have rules on this?"

Eighty-nine per cent of households have a video recorder, half own a DVD player, 99 per cent have a television, 58 per cent have a CD player and 58 per cent contain a home computer, according figures from 2003, the latest available. Research by the government-backed Energy-Saving Trust shows 62 million television sets used 8 per cent of their total average daily energy consumption while they were in standby mode. The average television set is left on standby for more than 17 hours a day while most set-top boxes and video recorders are never turned off.

Stephen Reilly, a spokesman for the trust, said it was "scary" that half of Britons were not aware household power consumption contributed to climate change. He said appliances left on standby contributed to 50 million tons of unnecessary CO 2 emissions from homes each year, putting an average £200 a year on energy bills. He said: "People don't think about this. This is definitely a contributor to climate change. It's wasted energy."

A spokesman for Defra said the department had negotiated a significant cut in the power consumption of television sets while on standby and was working to expand guidelines to cover other appliances.

Mr Morley urged consumers to ensure they did not waste power. He said: "The energy we use at home contributes to climate change so saving energy is not just good for people's pockets. It is good for the environment. About half of our target cuts in carbon emissions to combat climate change have to come through energy efficiency... switching off electrical appliances rather than leaving them on standby makes a huge difference and is a measure we can all take."

The mains offenders

* Dishwashers left "on" at the end of their cycle consume 70 per cent of the power used when they are running.

* The average television is left on standby for up to 17.5 hours a day.Last year Britain's 62 million television sets consumed about 8 per cent of their energy consumption in standby mode.

* Washing machines use just under 20 per cent of their normal electricity requirement on standby.

* Tumble-dryers can use 38 per cent of power while waiting at the end of a cycle.

* If lights were turned off when not in use it would prevent 375,000 tons of CO2 emissions and save £55m in bills.

* There is little difference between the power requirement of digital receivers when they are on and on standby.

* Experts say the total power used while an appliance is on standby can equal the electricity used during the time it is on.

* Other appliances with high standby power use are cordless telephones, radios and stereos.