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Future switch, reducing standby power

03/06/2011 - 16:06
electricity, energy saving, how to save electricity, power, standby power

I hate standby power and have put a lot of energy into reducing it. I started with master-slave power boards, devices which shut off standby power to slave devices when the master is not drawing power. For instance, they will turn off the DVD, VCR and XBOX when the TV is off. They usually have one or two constant sockets, for appliances not dependent on the master.

My first was the TrickleStar TV, a fancy-named master-slave device which I reviewed for Green Renters. Then I got a Jackson master-slave power board in the office and another for my son’s computer. Unfortunately, my son’s computer has a nasty habit of blowing up master-slave power boards (it’s a bit of a Dell), but doesn’t mind standard power boards. So I got a Tricklestar PC for him, as it connects to the master via a USB rather than a power cable, and it worked a treat. Yet he still didn’t really like it as it has only one slave socket and no constant sockets, and a few appliances that are not dependent on the PC. There was also the matter of the dozens of cables in his room and a power board that lights up like a disco.

The TrickleStar TV is not without its problems either. All too often, we’d watch a DVD, and then the TV would be turned off. Then when I wanted to belatedly get the DVD out of the player, I had to turn the TV on just to get power to the DVD player.

The master-slave device in the study is a Jackson unit and had a printer and monitor dependent on the PC. But for some reason, whenever I turned the PC on, the printer turns on automatically, even if it was turned off earlier.  Eventually, this unit started to play up and once in a while, all the slaves would turn on and off every 20 seconds or so.  So it was back to the shop for that.  I replaced it with a simple power board with individual switches.

So after all that, in comes the Future Switch. This is a very simple device. I got the starter pack, which consists of one battery powered wireless ‘switch’ and a wall socket. The wireless switch is like a remote control, turning off all power coming out of the wall socket. All you need to do is plug in the wall socket and connect your appliances (or power board) to it.

You can purchase more units to allow many sockets to be connected to a single switch, or to use a single switch to control many sockets. You can therefore use one (or more) switches to control all the appliances in your home. Alternatively, you can group your home into areas, using one switch to control each area.

The switch doesn’t have ON/OFF buttons, but simply rocks on its base. You press the top for OFF and the bottom for ON. When the switch is activated it blinks for a second to indicate the state of the circuit. This takes getting used to because red means power is ON (energy saving mode OFF) and green means power is OFF (energy saving mode ON). I get their perspective but it doesn’t really make sense for practical purposes.

Each socket uses 0.6W when off and 0.9W when on (the difference is because the socket has a red light which glows when it is on. This may seem to be unnecessary, but it is a useful reminder that standby power is being used). Most appliances use more stand-by power than 1W, so there are savings to be made. Furthermore, the future switch is usually used to manage more than one appliance at once.

I loved it, but my wife wasn't so keen. She was worried that we'd lose the switch and wasn't happy when I took it into the study to take the photos on this site. We've reverted back to the annoying Tricklestar and my son has the switch. He loves it, I'd like another.

So here are the positives and negatives:

  I found that it could be a useful alternative to using the remote to put appliances on standby. There is no more need to turn the TV off at the switch and with many TVs being built these days with switches that aren’t designed to last (I once had a TV with a broken switch, the manufacturer blamed me, telling me that I shouldn’t use the switch but the remote to turn it off!), this is a great initiative. It may even be a cheaper option than fixing a TV with a broken switch!

  It gives you control over your appliances, reducing the annoyance factor with master-slave power boards.

  If you go away often, or have areas of the house you don’t use for long periods, you can shut everything off at the ‘press’ of a switch.

  It does require more effort than a master-slave power board – you have to remember to turn it off (but if you use it instead of your main switch, it should become easy).

  It is one more remote to look for – and if you lose it, you cannot use your appliances without removing the wall socket. It does have sticky pads and screw holes for secure mounting if you like, but that partially defeats the purpose.