VAMPIRE POWER! Sounds scary huh? Well it is. "Vampire power" is a term used to describe electronics' continued energy use when in a powered-off state, also referred to as standby mode. Even though you may have taken your phone off the charger or hit the "off" button on your TV, those devices are likely continuing to draw a trickle of power that can add up over time on your electricity bill and carbon footprint.
As an example, here's a back-of-the-napkin type calculation. There are around 230million cell phone users in the US. If 10% of them leave their charger plugged in all the time, charges their phone 1hr/day, and the charger uses about 0.1W (see pg 87) when not in use, this adds up to over 19 million kWh of wasted electricity. If half that is from coal (~1 metric ton of CO2/MWh) and 15% from natural gas (~.5 tCO2/MWh), we're talking about roughly 15,500 tCO2 from wasted energy in cell phone chargers, and I think that I'm being conservative here. Now think about your microwave, TV, computer, etc. You get the idea.
Now before we get too worked up, standby power can be useful for features such as memory retention in your DVR or computer or to allow use of a remote control to turn devices on and off. However, I don't understand why charging devices should draw power when not in use (can a EE explain this to me?), and I personally see absolutely no reason why every kitchen appliance needs to have a clock, hence the title of this post. I've seen a coffee maker that uses an LCD display to show a digital image of an analog clock - this is absolutely ridiculous to me.
ENERGY STAR and the UK's Energy Savings Trust are fantastic market based mechanisms to give incentive to reduce standby energy consumption. The UK is even debating a ban on the standby option for electronics, though I am not sure this is reasonable.
What is reasonable, and necessary, is for consumers to change their behavior and product preferences regarding standby power use. If you had to get up to turn your TV on and off, would it be that big of a deal? You had to get up to walk to the couch anyway. If you wear a watch with a 3yr battery, do you really need 18 clocks in your kitchen? How about unplugging chargers when not in use (or plugging them all into a power strip that you can switch on and off)?
Behavior changes aren't always easy, but any move towards electricity conservation can help reduce CO2 emissions and your electricity bill. We don't need to wait on government programs and market economics to cut down on standby energy consumption, all we have to do is unplug.