What are vampire or phantom power?

Vampire power, also known as phantom load, phantom power consumption, or vampire draw, refers to the electric power consumed by electronic devices while they are switched off or in standby mode. It is called “phantom” because the power is being used, but the device appears to be turned off or inactive. This phenomenon occurs due to various components in electronic devices that still need power to function even while in standby, such as remote controls, clocks, indicator LEDs, and transformers for AC-DC power conversion.

What causes phantom power consumption?

There are several components in electronic devices that contribute to phantom power consumption:

  • Transformers – To convert high voltage AC from the wall outlet to low voltage DC used by the device’s components, transformers are used. Transformers always draw a small amount of power as long as they are connected to the power source.
  • Capacitors – Capacitors are used to store electrical charge and smooth out the power supply. Charged capacitors continue to draw some power even while the device is turned off or inactive.
  • Indicator lights – Many devices have indicator LEDs that show the device’s status. These LEDs are powered even while the device is in standby.
  • Sensors – Some devices have sensors like infrared receivers for remote controls that need to remain active to receive signals to turn on the device.
  • Memory and clock – Devices like microwaves and coffee makers display the time. The real-time clock and memory storing the time settings consume power.
  • Chargers – Chargers for phones, laptops and other gadgets draw power continuously as long as they are plugged in.

All these components together can consume anywhere from 1 to 25 watts in phantom mode per device. Recent regulations have limited standby power consumption by electronic devices to 1 watt or less.

How much phantom power is consumed worldwide?

It is estimated that around 10% of total residential power consumption in the US is due to phantom load. This amounts to around 100 billion kilowatt-hours per year, producing roughly 80 million tons of CO2 emissions.

As per estimates, the total phantom load in US households is equivalent to the output of 50 large (1000 MW) power plants.

Worldwide, the phantom load power consumption is estimated to be around 250-300 TWh per year. This would be enough to power New York City for 2 years straight.

Examples of devices that consume phantom power

Common household devices that consume phantom power include:

  • TVs and set-top boxes
  • Computers and monitors
  • Chargers for phones, tablets and laptops
  • Microwaves and coffee makers
  • Gaming consoles
  • DVD/Blu-ray players
  • Printers and scanners
  • Security systems and modems
  • Digital clocks
  • Satellite receivers, cable boxes

Kitchen appliances like ovens, refrigerators and dishwashers can have a phantom load ranging from 1 to 20 watts. Office equipment like copiers and printers also consume power when idle.

Measuring phantom power consumption

A phantom load power meter like the Kill A Watt meter can be used to measure how much power a device consumes in standby mode. These meters are plugged into the wall outlet and device is plugged into meter to get power measurements.

Another test method is to switch off all devices in a home at the plug point or unplug devices. Then check the minimum power consumed as indicated on the electric meter. This minimum power is the phantom load of the home.

How to reduce phantom power consumption?

Some ways to minimize phantom power consumption include:

  • Unplug chargers and devices when not in use
  • Use power strips and switch them off to cut power to a group of devices
  • Replace devices with Energy Star rated efficient models
  • Enable standby/sleep modes on electronics to cut power draw
  • Disable LED status lights on devices if possible
  • Replace transformers with efficient switching mode power supplies

Smart power strips that can automatically cut power to inactive devices are also very effective. Timers can be used to cut power at night for devices not in use.

Vampire Power

Vampire power refers to a specific form of phantom load caused by devices that have wall warts or external power supplies. These adapters convert AC voltage from the wall outlet to lower DC voltage that devices require even when the device is switched off.

The transformer inside the adapter consumes power (around 0.5 to 3 watts typically) as long as it is plugged in. This wasted power is termed as vampire power.

How vampire power wastes electricity

Vampire power losses can range from 1% for a single adapter up to 10% for a house full of devices with adapters. This wasted electricity globally equals the output from 18 power stations.

Some examples of vampire power waste:

  • A single cell phone charger consumes around 0.26 kWh annually.
  • Game consoles like Xbox/PS4 use 2.41 kWh annually in standby.
  • A home PC uses around 28 kWh annually while switched off.

Considering there are billions of external power adapters worldwide, vampire power results in enormous wasted electricity globally.

Reducing vampire power waste

Solutions for reducing vampire power consumption include:

  • Unplugging wall adapters when not in use
  • Using remote controlled or smart power strips
  • Replacing wall warts with more efficient ENERGY STAR rated models
  • Consolidating chargers – use just one for multiple devices
  • Charging devices directly from USB ports which switch off power when done

Phantom and vampire power in audio equipment

Phantom and vampire power losses also occur in audio devices like amplifiers, mixers and PA systems. Audio devices utilize linear power supplies to cleanly power the audio circuits.

Transformers in these supplies consume power continuously to maintain a stable DC voltage even when idle. This phantom draw ranges from a few watts in smaller devices up to over 50 watts in high powered amps.

Vampire power specifically affects audio devices like wireless microphones and in-ear monitors that rely on small wall adapter power supplies. Adapters waste power even while the audio device is turned off.

Other examples of phantom load in audio gear are:

  • Power on indicator LEDs
  • Active cooling fans
  • Microcontrollers and memory
  • Phantom power for condenser microphones that is always on

Basic methods like unplugging equipment when not in use, using power strips, and replacing inefficient power supplies can help mitigate phantom loads.


In summary, vampire and phantom power are significant yet hidden energy costs among consumer electronics and appliances. The wasted electricity globally amounts to billions of dollars and tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Being aware of phantom loads and taking steps like switching off devices, replacing inefficient components, and consolidating chargers can help reduce this energy waste.

Government policies establishing low standby power standards for appliances have also been critical to curbing phantom loads. Overall, consumers and manufacturers must work together to minimize this invisible power drain.

Device Phantom load
TV 3-10 watts
Game console 2-10 watts
Desktop computer 2-15 watts
Microwave oven 2-10 watts
Coffee maker 3-12 watts
External power adapter 0.5-3 watts

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