Consumers are told that leaving electrical devices in standby mode wastes large amounts of energy and makes a significant contribution to carbon dioxide emissions. Should 'standby mode' be regulated by governments?

Not according to results of a study published in the International Journal of Environment and Sustainable Development.

Sound counter-intuitive? Their reasoning is that as electrical devices get more efficient, the amount of energy saved through stricter regulation becomes ever smaller and effort should instead be spent improving the overall efficiency of devices in operation.

Hendrik Biebeler and colleagues at the Cologne Institute for Economic Research suggests that the European Union directive aimed at reducing the negative environmental impact of technology by attempting to regulate the off switch is at best misguided when it comes to such devices and at worst likely to lead to avoidance by manufacturers in terms of improving the energy efficiency of their products in other ways.

"Our impact assessment demonstrates that the off mode and real standby of a TFT computer monitor and of LCD television sets only have a small potential to reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions," say the researchers. They point out that regulating the off mode is the most expensive option that saves the least amount of energy when it comes to producing more environmentally friendly electrical devices.

The researchers suggest that regulation of standby energy consumption focuses on only a limited fraction of the total potential to increase energy efficiency by developing devices that are more efficient while in use. More of us are replacing old personal computers that had separate energy-guzzling cathode-ray monitors with TFT monitors and laptops. A TFT monitor uses a third of the energy (25 Watts) of standard cathode ray monitors (75 Watts), but the difference between standby and off mode for a TFT monitor is around one watt.

Gradual phasing out of old energy-intensive components should, the researchers say, be a priority rather than the regulators being concerned with the loss of the small fraction of energy wasted in leaving a device inactive in standby rather than switched off at the mains.

They point out that manufacturers will endeavour to comply with whatever regulations are in place at as low a cost as possible. If the regulations insist on enforced off mode systems, then they will adopt that, but that will save far less energy overall than enforcing greater energy efficiency in device operation.

Article: "European regulation of standby energy consumption: the case of LCD-TVs and TFT-monitors", Hendrik Biebeler, Mahammad Mahammadzadeh and Hubertus Bardt, International Journal of the Environment and Sustainable Development, 2007, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp 242-253