Time for action: leaving appliances on stand-by raises C02 emissions (and drains our bank balances)

The Belgian government is performing poorly with regard to climate change agreements. Not only did we win the ‘Fossil of the Day’ award in Paris, but barely a few months later our implementation of the Paris accord still lags far behind. Ordinary citizens can do little more than try to make a difference as consumers. In an ideal world, policy makers would set the example. But in this case, the opposite is true.

Luckily, one main cause of household energy wastage can be eliminated relatively simply and with no detriment to comfort. Although we are hardly aware of it, many of our household appliances use energy even when we are not using them. But in truth, we all know a television on stand-by is still consuming electricity. We know it, yet we let it continue nonetheless. One simple reason is ignorance. Research has shown that providing people with real-time feedback on their energy consumption (including by not limited to stand-by consumption) leads to an automatic reduction in usage of 12%. Confrontation with hard facts is the best way to spur people into action.

In the 1990s carbon monoxide poisoning caused over 40 deaths annually. This number has now fallen by half, mainly because today’s appliances are safer, but also because of far-reaching campaigns aimed at preventing incidents. Today, carbon monoxide is widely acknowledged to as a ‘silent killer’, a fact which promts people to ensure their boilers are maintained and to replace old boilers with newer, safer models.

A similar change is necessary in order to deal with energy consumption: changing behaviour requires a change in thinking. Since there are no campaigns against hidden waste, I mount my own campaigns here. Not only can I help people identify major energy-consuming appliances, such as outdated fridges and televisions, I can also encourage them to change their behaviour in general: switch to air-drying laundry instead of using the dryer, only using hot water when it is truly needed, washing clothes at lower temperatures and so on.

Besides all of these changes, the simplest thing to do is to stop leaving electrical devices on stand-by. After all, it costs €50 each year to leave a game console on stand-by, and the digital decoders that few people ever turn off use considerable energy in stand-by mode, possibly exceeding 250 kWh annually. That’s another €55. A small boiler on stand-by will set you back €30 and an espresso machine another €8. Add all of that up and you will discover that you can save hundreds of euros each year simply by switching your appliances off or using a timer to switch them off automatically.

Clearly, anyone who takes a hard look at the numbers will see that they can save a few hundred euros on their electricity bills each year. Moreover, since our energy sources are hardly sustainable, we will also be cutting down significantly on CO2 emissions. Leaving a digital decoder on when the television is off represents a CO2 emission of 130kg annually – the same amount produced by driving 500km in a small car.

We have measured all of this with Smappee, a device which allows consumers to track their energy consumption in real time. Big data provides some very interesting information. Within six months of installing Smappee, the average Belgian elimates 4.27% of his stand-by consumption compared to the first month. The Dutch do even better, eliminating 8.93%. And this is only the data for stand-by consumption, which was reduced by a technique no more complicated than fully switching off the television, radio, computer and printer a little more often.

If we are to persuade Belgians to use energy more mindfully, we need to provide the right information. In recent years informational campaigns have helped people get to grips with CO2, sorting waste for recycling, quitting smoking and identifying a designated driver on a night out- all things we had previously tended to ignore even though we knew they were important. Now is the time to approach energy consumption in the same way. Let’s start with the easiest thing we can: eliminating stand-by sinkholes.