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What you need to know about phantom load

August 29, 2023 | Eric BenSalah | energy efficiency, energy savings, tips
phantom power

This may be one of the most common efficiency tips you’ve heard or read: Be sure to unplug all unused electronics to save energy and money.

So, does doing that really make a big difference? The short answer is yes and no. If you have seen OPPD’s video on “phantom” load – or the amount of power used by devices that are plugged in but not turned on – you understand that answer. If you haven’t seen that video, be sure to check it out, and read on.

Add it up

Unplugging unused electronic devices does reduce your energy usage, but by a very small amount. As an energy-saving (and bill-reducing) measure, it is not very effective. You are better off simply turning the power off, or if you still want to unplug an appliance or device, connect it (and other electronics) to a power strip and turn that off. A few examples, based on eight hours of use a day:

  • Cellphone charger: Unplugging it when not in use will save you roughly 2 cents a month.
  • Computer/work setup (laptop, two monitors and speakers): Unplugging all of these when not in use will save you roughly 45 cents per month.
  • Entertainment center (LCD TV, speakers, audio receiver, two gaming systems): Unplugging all of these when when not in use will save you roughly 90 cents per month.
phantom load
A watt detector can measure how much energy a piece of electronic equipment uses when not in use.

An electronic device uses significantly less power when it’s turned off than when it’s in use. A watt detector measures how much energy a device uses when it’s plugged in but not in use. A space heater, for example, uses 60 watts in 24 hours. That adds up to roughly a half cent per day, or about 16 cents per month.

So, back to unplugging the space heater for six hours. If you unplug it, you’ll actually save one-hundredth of a cent per day. At a maximum, if you left the space heater unplugged 24 hours a day for an entire month, you would save yourself 16 cents.

To look at your possible savings more broadly: You might save about $1-3 a month if you unplug everything in between uses, a small portion of the average power bill. So why is that tip so popular?

Working together makes a difference

The short answer is that one household following this process might reduce its energy load by 2.5 kWh a day. But, especially during peak energy use situations – like a scorching hot or bitterly cold day – if 10,000, 20,000 or 50,000 customers do this for a day, the energy consumption across OPPD’s service territory drops by 25,000, 50,000 or 75,000 kWh.

Put another way: On a sweltering summer day, if 10,000 customers raised the temperature on their thermostats by 3 degrees, the reduction in OPPD’s demand would be roughly equivalent to powering 10 grocery stores or 1,000 homes.

In closing, yes, phantom load is real, and you can make a difference. The reality of phantom load, however, is that it works on a larger scale, when we all work together. On a smaller scale – for example, your home – it’s all up to you: How much effort do you want to put into reducing your energy use and cost and your carbon footprint? Simply turning items off, or shutting off a power strip (or better yet: using smart plugs) will produce nearly the same effect for that effort.

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About Eric BenSalah

Eric BenSalah is an Energy Advisor for OPPD. After spending time in the field doing HVAC work, he joined OPPD’s Contact Center in 2012, assisting customers with energy efficiency and heating and cooling-related inquiries. Over the last three years, Eric revamped the Energy Efficiency webpages at and launched the new Energy Education Program. In his free time, Eric continues to play drums (for 30 years now) and is an avid reader of philosophy, astronomy, history and all things strange.

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