Don’t Forget About Standby Power

Standby power management technology has enabled the resource constrained IoT world but not without trials.

Standby power refers to the electronic and electrical power consumed by systems when the primary operational functions are waiting to be activated. Standby power needs are often overlooked by systems designers but are crucial considerations to ensure power is available for the smart devices that make up the Internet of Things (IoT).

Consider the design of a smart home, a dwelling that consumes zero net energy. To maintain zero net power consumption, the smart home must be capable of monitoring and controlling the main energy consumers – e.g., HVAC and lighting – as well as interfacing with energy sources such as solar panels/batteries and the power grid. Adding control and monitoring intelligence to the home will itself require energy. The trick is to make sure that the controlling and monitoring electronics don’t consume more power than the devices themselves. One part of this trick is to make sure that the smart systems pay attention to stand-by loads, those mischievous power draining loads consumed by electronics and electrical appliances even when they are turned off (but still drawing power in standby mode).

In addition to – or often part of – controlling and monitoring electronics, connectivity transceivers like RF and wireless are another reason why standby power awareness are so important. Most of our modern appliances and control devices constantly consume a trickle of power to be ready to perform updates, connect to edge or cloud servers, listen for our voice commands, and the like.

Numerous studies attest to the amount of energy lost from devices not in use due to standby power consumption. According to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an international nonprofit environmental organization, always-on but inactive devices can cost Americans $19B annually. That comes to about $165 per U.S. households on average—and 50 large (500-megawatt) power plants’ worth of electricity.

Further, Berkeley Labs notes that standby power is roughly responsible for 1% of global CO2 emissions.

What are the best ways to reduce the impact of standby power? Let’s consider one approach that looked promising but so far has failed and another more integrated approach that has proven to be successful.

Image source: Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

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