A light bulb leaning against a house

What is phantom power?

The silent expense in the household

Phantom power represents 7-11% of the total electricity cost in Spanish households. Find out why that happens, and learn how to avoid it to save on your power bill.

Turning off unnecessary lights, keeping our home at a comfortable temperature around 20-21ºC, and using appliances bearing the A energy label are all just some of the measures that can help us cut our electricity costs. However, there's a type of energy consumption that we're not usually aware of and that continues to increase our bill every day: phantom power consumed by electrical appliances. We tell you all about it and what you can do to avoid it to achieve a more energy efficient home.


What's the phantom power used by household appliances?

Phantom power, also known as standby power, refers to the electricity consumed by certain electrical appliances and devices when we are not using them.

Even if an appliance or electronic is in standby mode, it will continue to consume electricity as long as it is connected to the general supply network.

How much electricity does phantom power account for?

In Spain, household energy consumption averages 3,487 kWh per year, of which phantom power accounts for about 300 kWh, according to data from the Spanish Institute for Energy Diversification and Saving (IDAE). According to these figures, phantom electricity consumption represents 7-11% of the total annual consumption of Spanish households.

An adult and a child playing video games

Why do devices use phantom power?

Phantom power is a relatively modern concept as it's associated with the design of many new generation appliances. These devices have a transformer inside them with two coils that adapt the mains voltage to the specific voltage required by each device.

Now, even if we're not using these devices, one of the coils will always stay on while they're plugged into the mains. This is the reason why, when they're kept in standby mode, we can still see in many electrical devices a red pilot light that lets us know that it's in standby mode or a clock on the front of many oven models, for example.

Ways to reduce phantom energy consumption

  1. Unplugging appliances when you are not using them is the most effective measure for eliminating phantom power consumption. This is not a problem for most of the electrical equipment in our homes. However, there are some exceptions such as refrigerators or freezers, which need to stay plugged in to maintain their internal temperature, or routers, given that if they are disconnected it could affect automatic software updates and their overall performance.
  2. Keeping cell phone chargers plugged in is one of the most common examples of phantom power consumption, which is completely unnecessary. Get into the habit of using them only when you need them, and your home will be energy efficient.
  3. Many household appliances have timers that allow us to schedule the switch off time whenever we like, so take advantage of this feature to reduce your electricity consumption!
  4. Desktop computers can account for up to 8% of the total energy consumption of household appliances, according to data from the IDAE . If you don't use it regularly and want to save on your bill, consider replacing it with a laptop with significantly lower energy consumption.
  5. The energy label on household appliances also includes information on their phantom power consumption. This is an important fact to bear in mind if we're thinking about investing in new equipment and want to compare models to make sure we make the best decision in terms of energy efficiency.
  6. Power strips will be one of your best allies to reduce your household appliances' phantom power consumption. These small devices have a switch that, when turned off, completely disconnects the equipment plugged into it so that no electricity is used.
  7. Some power strips models have a standby eliminator, which is ideal for avoiding phantom power consumption. These power strips are able to sense when power consumption of the appliances connected to them drops and switch them off when not in use. Many models have separate sockets for electronic equipment that we want to keep always on (e.g. routers or wireless phones).
  8. There are also power strips with standby eliminators for TVs that incorporate a small receiver that makes it possible to control them using the remote or even our cell phone. This option is as convenient as it is practical given that when the TV is turned off, all other peripherals, such as sound bars or video game consoles, will also be turned off.


Household appliances that use the most energy in standby mode

Dryers, dishwashers, fridges, washing machines, and TVs top the list of appliances with the highest electricity consumption, according to the Spanish Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU), but would you like to find out which appliances use the most energy in standby mode?

Person holding the door of an oven

Overall, the following appliances’ phantom power consumption represents an expense of €23 per year:

  • In this case, the equipment involving the highest cost are water heaters as their phantom power consumption in standby mode can reach 27 kWh per year.
  • Voice assistants, which are rather popular nowadays, use an estimated 26 kWh in phantom power per year.
  • Robot vacuum cleaners can add up to 23 kWh to our annual electricity bill in standby mode.

On the other hand, there are also very efficient appliances in terms of overall energy consumption, but with high phantom power consumption, such as desktop computers or voice assistants.

TVs, DTT decoders, video game consoles, home theater systems, and printers are also at the top of the list of devices with the highest standby power consumption. However, the amount of time they are in use must also be taken into account.

If you want to check the phantom power consumption of your household equipment yourself, you can do so very easily by installing an electricity meter, which will enable you to identify which devices use the most energy.