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The following essay was a finalist in the BC Hydro Invent the Future Contest. For more information, visit InventTheFuture.ca

When we turn our electronic devices off, we feel proud because we think that we are saving energy. Unfortunately, this is a lie. Even though we are saving some energy, the device still consumes energy even when we think it is "off.” Unless we directly cut a device off from its source of electricity, it goes into what's called StandBy mode. For example, a TV might be "off,” but it still needs electricity to receive a signal from the remote control. Some energy consuming devices, such as lamps, do not have StandBy mode and are directly severed from the power source when we turn them off.

Other devices, such as modems, routers, or fridges, need to be running constantly, and we must accept that they use electricity and that we cannot change that fact. But for the most part, many of our appliances and machines like computers use StandBy and waste precious electricity.


Daniel Sykora and William Gatenby
Age 13 years, West Vancouver
Entry Name: Standby Killer

Our plan is to use a microcomputer to control the waste of electricity by systematically cutting and restoring power to devices that use StandBy and do not need to. The computer will include several tiny RC stations located in every room, so when it receives a signal from a remote control it will turn on the specified device and carry out the command that the remote control sends. This will save a huge amount of electricity.

For example, the Sykora house wastes about 2,570 kWh/year, just in StandBy Mode electricity. In addition, the Sykora house would save approximately $183 per year. The Gatenby household wastes approximately 2,191 kWh/year, and they would save $165. Just think of where all this wasted electricity could go to use! The microcomputer itself only consumes less than 0.3kWh/year.

The microcomputer program will be written in Real Time BASIC and would be able to control the StandBy consumption of the entire house, allowing us to focus on other energy saving techniques, such as turning off the lights. No longer would we have to worry about our computers consuming energy even when they don't have to!

Our proposed plan has two parts. Just for reference, the microcomputers and RC stations can be connected through wires under the floor or in the walls, or we can connect them wirelessly.

The first part of our plan includes devices which use a remote control. These devices would have a small RC station near them. When you press the “on” button on the remote control, the signal would branch off, heading to the RC station as well as the device. The RC station would communicate with the microcomputer (which is in another part of the house) and restore power to the device, and until you turn the device off, all commands from the remote control will go directly to the TV. Likewise, when you turn off the TV with the remote control, the signal will go to the RC station, and the RC station will safely cut the power from the TV.

The second part of our plan includes devices which do not use remote controls, such as dishwashers or drying machines. The system for these devices would be similar to the RC system with one difference. With these types of devices, there is no need for the microcomputer’s RC station. The microcomputer can directly control the power input into the device. For example, when you turn your washing machine on, the microcomputer will restore power to the device. When you turn the device off, the microcomputer will cut off the device’s connection to electricity. This method will eliminate StandBy waste in all possible ways.

Our studies indicate that the total energy consumption of West Vancouver is 266,577,200 kWh/year. We calculated that 40,087,620 kWh/year of that number is StandBy waste. So, if StandBy was eliminated, we could cut West Vancouver’s energy consumption down to 226,577,200 kWh/year. Next, let’s calculate how much energy could be saved in British Columbia. In BC, there are approximately 1,778,474 private dwellings (not including offices, workplaces, etc.). Let us assume that one dwelling consumes about 15,000 kWh/year, and wastes roughly 2, 505 kWh/year in StandBy waste. According to this data, British Columbia consumes more or less 26,677,110,000 kWh/year, and wastes 4,455,077,370 kWh/year. And this is just private dwellings!

Finally, let’s calculate StandBy waste for all of Canada. According to the government statistics, there are about 13,576,855 private dwellings in Canada. We will use the same energy consumption and StandBy waste estimates from the British Columbia calculations. So, Canada’s total energy consumption would be approximately 203,652,825,000 kWh/year, and Canada’s StandBy waste is roughly 34,010,021,775 kWh/year. As you can see from these calculations, the energy we waste through StandBy could be put to much better uses than ours. StandBy is a fact we cannot ignore, but one that we can change.