/ Technology

Why won’t my tech turn off?

Power button

In a time of soaring energy prices we need to cut our energy use, not increase it. So why is so much modern home technology lacking a proper power button?

Most TVs, for example, are now standby-only. So is my DVD player and my PlayStation.

There are other home tech goods that drink power for fun too. PVRs and set-top boxes should be switched off at the wall at night to save energy, but take an age to start up again. As a result, many people don’t bother and leave the box in standby – which often saves little power – or worse still leave it on.

Each appliance’s energy consumption adds up though. The energy use of millions of TVs, gaming consoles and set-top boxes across the country amounts to a huge waste of energy.

Support for on/off switches

I’m not alone in thinking this. We polled Which? Convo readers in 2011, and three quarters of 1,009 voters said that they think on/off switches on TVs are essential. Another 11% already owned a TV without a real power switch and hated not having one.

Terfar thinks that the amount of power used by TVs on standby is so small it’s not worth worrying about:

‘My TV uses a third of a watt when it is connected to the mains and the TV is switched off. That’s hardly wasting power. You lose more power than that just opening a door or a window in winter.’

Vynor Hill has found a way to get around the problem:

‘I purchased remote control switches (£10 each from my supermarket) and can now stop everything from glowing red with one click. My Sky box objects to this but, given time, it revives when the power returns.’

Vynor goes on to say that ‘there should be on/off switches on all electrical appliances – we shouldn’t have to buy our own’.

Phil offered an explanation for the lack of switches:

‘A switch would be cheap but it’s not the way the economics of mass production works. If the manufacturer can save £1 on each set they make and they make one million sets then that’s another million pounds of profit they’ve made.’

Would you be happy to pay an extra pound or two for a built-in off switch on your tech products?


Whether the amount of power consumed is small or large, it all mounts up. I bought a small plug in unit to measure the amount of power consumed when appliances are switched off and found that a small bedroom TV was using 10W, 24 hours a day. That’s about enough power to light the room continuously. The £9.99 I paid for my energy monitor has been more than recouped by encouraging me to switch electrical items off when not in use.

There is a small fire risk with electrical items that do not have a proper power switch, hence the advice to unplug or at least switch off at the socket.

One of the biggest waste of power has to be chargers or anything that plugs in to charge.

My mobile beeps when charging is finished and appears to stop charging so you know you can unplug it.

Things like torches vary a lot. One has an led that stays red until the torch is charged, then turns green so you know to unplug it. Others have nothing at all.

A Black & Decker charger for a hedge trimmer broke. When I went to replace it, the one with an led indicator cost about £70 wheras the non-led one was about £29. Hmmm…. I have a torch with a separate charger that has an led indicator and the whole thing including the torch cost less than £20.

So maybe companies should be forced to make chargers that have indicators or actually turn off when charging is complete.

I agree, Alfa. Thankfully, modern electronic chargers are not as wasteful as the older designs that include transformers. A useful tip is to feel the charger and see if it stays warm after charging is completed. If it does, it is wasting a significant amount of energy.

It would not be difficult to design a charger that actually switches off properly when charging is completed.

I recently installed an Owl energy monitor system.
I was very surprised to see that the new tech. did not use much current – the biggest waste was from an older Panasonic microwave. It was consuming 80w just to keep the clock on!
I used to unplug chargers – but after checking them at less than 5w total (for all) when charging has finished there seems little point.

Most modern chargers are consume little power but there is a fire risk in case of failure, particularly with counterfeit chargers sold online.

I wonder if there is something else on the same circuit as your microwave, Bill. If it is really consuming 80W when not in use it will be rather warm.

Johnfh says:
24 March 2014

I doubt that the microwave clock is using 80 watts. The probable explanation is that the power factor for the clock alone is less than 0.1 and the Owl monitor ignores the true power factor and assumes that it is 1 so that it calculates the wattage wrongly as being 10 times greater than it actually is.

I explained this source of error in a Which conversation a few years ago but was ignored by Which who infuriatingly continue to ignore this critical point in their reviews of energy monitors.

My £9.99 plug-in energy monitor measures both W and VA, and power factor = W/VA. It is a pity that the more expensive Owl monitor does not do this, despite the fact that it has been mentioned in reviews.

My ancient Philips microwave, which is just new enough to have a clock, consumes very little power in standby mode.

Whilst it’s always a good idea to use less electricity and keep bills low we should put this into perspective. If all your standbys, timers and chargers produce a base load of say 20 watts your annual cost for 24/7 permanent drain amounts to about £20. Now 20 watts should be quite possible you only really need timers to ensure you get to record that TV programme while you are out, or to turn on heating etc, or perhaps to power up PIR security lighting.
Obviously turn off or ditch anything using lots of power on standby, usually older appliances, or connect them to plugin timers to reduce the load.

Real electricity savings come from the use you put it to. Any electrical heating by comparison is going to cost you dear. Electricity is about 12p per Kwh whereas gas is about 4p and even allowing for efficiency differences it’s clear that worrying about the odd standby TV or timer pales into insignificance.
A two hour storage heater boost early evening at say 2Kw per heater for say three months per year costs you about £45 per year per night storage unit. If you have say four of them that’s £180 just for the boost never mind the overnight consumption, although that is admittedly at a lower unit cost.

My message is certainly don’t waste electricity but put things into perspective and concentrate your energy savings where it really matters and where you could potentially save an awful lot more than switching off that standby TV.

Roders says:
25 March 2014

I think people are getting a little to concerned about items left on standby.
A device left on standby say uses a quarter of a what. you can not destroy energy so that is a quarter of a what heat into tour home and a quarter of a what that the heating system does not have to produce. same goes for hot water left in a kettle providing it is not poured down the sink.
A bowl of hot water left after washing up, leave the water in the bowl so the heat dissipates into tha air before tipping it away.
Only consideration to be made is the different energy costs between gas and electric also is it the heating season or summer.
Anything that gets warm is using power but conversely that is heat into an environment you are already paying to heat

You are essentially correct Rod but bear in mind space heat provided via electricity, even if it’s only a kettle providing a small amount of ambient heat to a room as it cools, is three times the cost of normal gas central heating space heating.
If you have night storage then yes you are probably dead right.
And you are correct that modern standby appliances use only a tiny amount of electricity anyway which over a year is an equally tiny percentage of your electricity bill.
Cost of energy is such that we all need to be careful not to waste the stuff but the focus for really significant savings has to be on space heating, stored hot water especially immersion heated, perhaps tumble dryer usage and also perhaps long periods under an electric shower.
Work on those rather than your phone charger if you want to save a few quid.

The only tech thing we leave on overnight is the PVR and that has proved useful because it downloads software updates and menu changes. Also, because of timeshift functions, it sometimes needs to record programmes on “repeat” channels in the early hours of the morning which couldn’t be done at normal broadcast time because of conflict with other recording or viewing preferences.I think the power drain is negligible while it’s in standby mode.

I am grateful to being pointed here from a more recent discussion today.

I am afraid I am in the “leave it on” camp for Sky box, most PCs – and indeed most other things that take a raccoon’s age to wake up if turned fully off, and particularly for products where (in my opinion) reliability is likely to suffer due to temperature cycling. I cannot reconcile the wasted power in the summer – but in the winter my net additional power use from this profligate activity is as near zero as makes no difference.