This Vampire Feeds on Energy

Oct. 18, 2021
It threatens unsuspecting business owners and diminishes their decarbonization efforts.

An insidious drain on energy efficiency and operating budgets, “vampire energy consumption” – yes, there is such a thing – can account for roughly 40% of a building’s energy use. Not only does this villain threaten unsuspecting business owners, but also diminishes their decarbonization efforts.

“We need a more comprehensive approach to energy management,” said Priya Vijayakumar, CEO of WattIQ, an Internet of Things (IoT) asset management platform provider. “We produce far more electrical assets than we need and their carbon footprint lasts long after it has been manufactured. If we can use our assets more efficiently, we can reduce our energy consumption by 25%.”

How big of a problem is vampire energy consumption? How can a device consume energy if it is ostensibly inactive? What can businesses do to mitigate the problem? Vijayakumar addressed these and other questions in a recent interview with EneryTech. Read on for her perspective.

EnergyTech: What is vampire energy consumption in the context of large commercial and industrial energy users?

Priya Vijayakumar: Vampire energy consumption is associated with electrical devices consuming energy even when they are perceived as not being “in use.” There has been a proliferation of electrical devices in the home and in commercial buildings over the last decade, but there hasn’t been the ability to monitor and control this energy usage at scale within an enterprise. The percentage of power consumption by these plugged-in devices has steadily increased to become nearly 40% of a building’s energy consumption.

ET: What are some common examples?

Vijayakumar: Within the enterprise, in an office environment, devices like audio visual equipment, water fountains, and copiers are common culprits. There are also other sources of energy waste that don’t fall into the traditional definition of vampire energy consumption and those are devices that are left running 24/7 but not used very frequently, like incubators, water-baths, biosafety cabinets, etc.

ET: How can an electrical device use/waste energy even if it’s not in use?

Vijayakumar: Electrical equipment has become more sophisticated and can have various modes of operation and as a result continues to draw power to run processes even when the equipment or device is perceived to be idle.

ET: Can you give us an idea of the magnitude of the problem?

Vijayakumar: Commercial buildings use 20% of all electricity in America. This comes at a total cost to American businesses of $180 billion per year. According to the Department of Energy, plug loads in commercial buildings can account for as much as 30-50% of each building’s total annual electricity costs.

Researchers (Moorefield, L., et al. 2008) estimated that California’s office plug loads consume more than 3,000 gigawatt-hours annually, costing business owners more than $400 million each year. The associated carbon dioxide emissions of these plug loads are more than 700,000 metric tons annually – equivalent to the carbon dioxide emissions of 140,000 cars during one year. 

ET: How can businesses identify and mitigate vampire energy consumption?

Vijayakumar: The first simple step would be to understand how much of their energy usage is unmanaged – that is, not going toward HVAC, lighting, etc. The next step would be to identify the high energy consumers and the utilization rates of these devices. Optimize by moving to energy-efficient devices, maximize the utilization of existing equipment, and power down equipment during off-business hours.