The Spooky Side of Waste: Phantom Loads (and How to Eliminate Them)

by Stefano Nicola

It was a dark and stormy night…just kidding ! This article is going to try to provide a brief but comprehensive description of what are usually called “phantom loads”.

What's a Load?

So let’s begin by defining a load in Engineering terms; in the Electrical Engineering field a load is, generally speaking, anything that uses up current.

In Wikipedia’s words,

An electrical load is an electrical component or portion of a circuit that consumes (active) electric power. This is opposed to a power source, such as a battery or generator, which produces power. In electric power circuits examples of loads are appliances and lights”

Why phantom you ask? Well, the main reason for this interesting name is due to the fact that these forms of waste are not quite as visible or noticeable as others.

But what are they, really?

Laptops, dishwashers, or any household item which remains in “stand-by” when left plugged in while not operated constitutes a phantom load. In Canada alone the energy waste driven by these “loads” every year is 5.4 TWh, which is the equivalent of the annual power consumption of 300,000 households.


Consider the amount of energy we could save every year by being just a little more careful!

What can we do?

Now, not all hope is lost - some products are “Energy-Star” rated, which means that their energy consumption, while not being used, is not as bad as other items. But how do we cut down on these dreadful wastes?
Well some items in our house are very easy to unplug, such as:

  • Laptop Chargers
  • Phone Chargers
  • Microwave Ovens
  • Televisions
  • DVD players
  • Gaming consoles! (Yes, yes, you can turn them off!)
  • Stereos

There are precautions that can be taken to cut down on these money-grabbing, energy-wasting sneaky phantoms . One, which is very easy and relatively cheap, is using power bars! Yes, you can have several devices all powered up together, when you leave the house or go on vacation, you can easily turn off the power bar and there you go!

You’d be surprised how much you can save (both yourself in terms of money and the environment in terms of energy production) by paying some extra attention after using any of these items!

Why does this matter?

HydroQuebec reports that roughly 5-10% of an average person’s energy bill in Canada is made up of, essentially, wasted energy.

Luckily, Canada has taken a stand against the “Vampire Power”, (that’s right - these phantom loads have many, MANY, spooky names) issue by putting in place energy efficiency regulations which help electronic products in enhancing their ability to cut on wasteful standby power losses. This is a great step forward, as are the energy policies of many other countries, but we shouldn’t forget that change starts from our own homes.

We owe this small effort to ourselves and to the environment; let’s start from here! Who knows, we might be able to chase away these ghosts after all!

- Stefano



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