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Firm claims silver bullet for 'vampire loads'

Phantom loads from shut-off electronics add up to a lot of wasted energy. Good for You, Good for the Planet says its technology cuts vampire energy to zero.

A Spanish company says it has developed a way to kill the vampires lurking in your living room--the numerous appliances that suck electricity even when they are not in use.

Good for You, Good for the Planet received a patent for a microprocessor-based design that cuts an electronic machine's electricity use to zero. It is now negotiating with several large manufacturers to incorporate the technology into power strips or into appliances, according to President Jorge Juan García Alonso.

Test products are being used at customers, including at a hotel and office building in Spain, according to a report. Commercially available products could be made more broadly available in a matter of months if the company successfully licenses its patent, García Alonso said.

Taking a bite out of electronic vampires could significantly reduce wasted energy. Good for You, Good for Planet says that a TV consumes more electricity per year when it's off than when it's on because the stand-by mode consumes electricity.

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In the U.S., "vampire energy" is about 5 percent of the energy consumed in the country and costs consumers $3 billion each year, according to the Department of Energy. Researchers at the University of California estimate that reducing stand-by power loss could save the U.S. $10 billion.

There are already products designed to stop the so-called phantom load of stand-by power. Smart power strips, for example, can tell when a TV peripheral is not being used and shut off.

Good for You, Good For the Planet says that its technology can detect when a device has gone into stand-by mode and then cut the current entirely. To reawaken a device, a consumer presses a button, according to the product description.

"With our technology you can have different configurations, as a power supply or a power strip, (and) you can launch a range of products to fix all the needs around stand-by for all kind of appliances, and in a pretty cheap way," García Alonso said.

Improving energy efficiency by cutting standby power on individual devices makes sense, but there's also a need to address networked devices, said Bruce Nordman, a researcher at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories. Stand-by power levels have gone down significantly in past years yet energy efficiency for networked devices poses a different problem because they typically require continuous power.

As electronic gadgets get more connected, consumers can connect different devices to the same screen. For example, multiple PCs or set-top boxes could share one screen, while future in-home displays could be both energy monitors and alarm system controls.

"So, zero-power has a place in our array of goals and approaches, but it is just one of many, and we need to be sure that attention to it doesn't detract from other approaches that may save more energy, more cost-effectively," he said.