Katherine Boehret

The Summer to Go on a Power Diet

As temperatures climb to their highest levels, so, too, do the cost of home utilities bills. So how do you at least keep your energy-sucking electronics in check?

Summer months are the most expensive electricity usage months of the year, according to a study from the U.S. Energy Information Association, a government agency. So whether you’re trying to save money or attempting to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, several technologies can make the task a bit easier. This week, I’ve prepared a run down of some of the many devices and websites that can help you to reduce power consumption.

Intelligent Power Strips

Call it standby power, vampire power or phantom power: When your appliances are plugged into the wall and not in use, they’re still sucking up energy. To solve this problem, some people go around their house unplugging electronics, but then they have to go around plugging these in again when they need to use them. And certain machines, like TiVos (TIVO), for example, will reboot every time they’re unplugged and plugged, which takes significantly more time than turning on a lamp after plugging it in again.


Smart strips like the HP Monster Digital PowerCenter let you choose which plugged-in devices stay on.

A number of special power strips have come out within the year that are designed to simplify this process by ensuring devices don’t draw power while plugged in. The $40 Smart Strip Power Strip from Bits Ltd. (bitsltd.net) has either seven or 10 outlets, depending on the model. These include three red outlets for products you never want to turn off and one blue “control” outlet. Electronics plugged into the remaining white outlets stay on or shut down depending on what’s plugged into the blue outlet. So if your computer is plugged into a blue outlet and you shut it down, your speakers, scanner, printer and monitor would also turn off as long as they’re plugged into the Smart Strip’s white outlets.

A similar product, in which plugged-in electronics take their cue from a control outlet, is the $50 HP (HPQ) Monster Digital PowerCenter with GreenPower (http://3.ly/3hXF). This strip, which has six three-pronged outlets, also includes two surge-protected phone connections for fax lines or modems.


The iGo Green Power Smart Tower.

The $80 Power Smart Tower with iGo Green Technology (http://3.ly/C7ce) includes four outlets that are always on and four that power down when anything that’s plugged in turns off. It also has two built-in USB power ports for charging via USB.

Track More, Waste Less

When people go on diets, they’re often told to write down everything they eat so they’re more conscious of what they’re ingesting every day. A study by the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford showed a 5% to 15% reduction in power consumption just by providing energy information to consumers.

One tool that could help you trace your electricity usage is the Consumer Electronics Association’s Energy Calculator (http://3.ly/gp2M). People fill in data on how much they use specific devices—like “digital television, 21 to 39 inches” or “notebook PC”— in their home per day or per month. The site calculates typical watts per device and figures out the energy-consumption costs for each over the period of a month and over a year, and then adds up the totals for each device. The idea is to let people see how small usage adjustments can have a big monetary impact over time.

If you’d rather not do the work of inputting data on your power usage, the Google PowerMeter (google.com/powermeter) might be up your alley. It digitally tracks your usage patterns using meter data supplied by your utility company and its results can be accessed from any Web browser or your iGoogle homepage. A Google representative says this service is gradually rolling out in tests with utility companies. Currently, 10 utilities are partnered with PowerMeter in five countries, including the U.S.

If your utility company isn’t one of the 10 that work with Google’s (GOOG) PowerMeter, you can buy a special gadget that monitors consumption, including some that physically hook into your fuse box. A list can be found here (http://3.ly/Un3h). One relatively less expensive device from Current Cost is $169.

Before You Buy

If you’re buying new electronics soon, you may want to consider a product’s energy efficiency before buying it.

The U.S. Department of Energy has a Web database of Energy Star compliant products, which meet requirements set by the DOE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (http://3.ly/SSsy).

Information on the Consumer Electronics Association website (http://3.ly/4x9P) helps people decide whether to replace or repair a product, from an efficiency standpoint.

Edited by Walter S. Mossberg

Email Katherine Boehret at mossbergsolution@wsj.com.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Silicon Valley

December 17, 2013 at 3:47 pm PT

Oh, the Places Your Phone Will Find

December 03, 2013 at 3:14 pm PT

Xbox One: Digital Home Base for the Living Room

November 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm PT

An iPad That’s Mini in Screen Size Only

November 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm PT

Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

Walt Mossberg’s Product Guides

Desktop PC’s and Laptops

The Laptops to Buy

Digital Cameras

Digital Cameras Improve Zooms, HD Function