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Power-wasting battery chargers to go on energy diet

The California Energy Commission takes aim at improving efficiency of battery chargers for laptops, music players, and larger battery-powered goods.

Flickr user crimsonninjagirl

Most battery chargers today are like leaky faucets dripping out a tiny flow of electricity even when not charging your electronic gadget.

The California Energy Commission yesterday voted in favor of efficiency standards aimed at cutting wasted energy from battery chargers for small electronics, including cell phones and electric toothbrushes, to larger battery-powered machines such as power tools and forklifts.

Once enacted, the measures should improve the efficiency of chargers by at least 40 percent and save over $300 million a year in utility costs, according to the Commission. The energy savings would be about 2,200 gigawatt hours per year, the equivalent of powering 350,000 homes.

Although the efficiency requirement only addresses products sold in California, the state has a long history of enacting stringent efficiency standards on other appliances, such as refrigerators and TVs, which have a national impact.

The spread of mobile computing devices has made battery chargers a bigger piece of household electricity use. The Commission estimates that the average California house has 11 battery chargers. Two thirds of the energy used by the 170 million chargers in the state is wasted.

In its analysis, the Commission found that it's technically feasible to improve the efficiency of chargers "with existing low cost, off-the-shelf technologies and will not affect the efficacy of battery-powered devices."

The standard is designed to eliminate the "vampire power" from chargers that continue to draw electricity even after a device is fully charged or when it's not plugged into a device.

For small electronics, the incremental cost is less than a dollar. A more efficient charger for a laptop, for example, would cost about 50 cents more and deliver $9 in energy savings.

A representative from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers told the Los Angeles Times that there should be a single national standard. In the past, electronics manufacturers complained about California's efficiency standards, including TVs, but have managed to meet them.

The new rules are set to take effect on February 1 next year for consumer goods, such as phones and power tools. Then in January 2014, the rules will go into effect for industrial goods, such as forklifts. Manufacturers of commercial chargers, such as walkie-talkies for emergency workers and portable barcode scanners, need to comply by January 2017.