7 Things That Use a Surprising Amount of Energy

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If you own or rent a home/apartment, take a look at your electricity bill. While it's common knowledge that heating, cooling, and lighting your place are the biggest energy consumers, there's a slew of other energy-intensive activities flying under the radar.  

Most of these things, I wouldn’t even think twice about, but when you break down what’s really on your energy bill, you’d be surprised at how much these seemingly small things add. Let me give you a few examples: 

Garage Door Opener 

This is one of those things that I never think about since I live in an apartment with street parking. However, if you live in a home with an automatic garage opener, you’d be surprised to hear that these little guys actually use more energy in one day than an Xbox would.  

Because these electrical appliances operate for only a few minutes per day, they don’t use much electricity to open and close your garage door. But there’s a catch: most garage door openers use three to five times more energy during the 1,437 minutes per day when they are “off” than they do during the 3 minutes per day when they are on. Since many garage openers have a remote control, the opener stays on even when it isn’t operating, because it is constantly waiting for the radio signal to tell it to open. 


Ironing your clothes may not take too much of your energy, but the iron itself can use anywhere between 900 and 1,500 watts per hour. A standard iron runs at about 1,200 watts per hour. In fact, a standard Sunco LED A19 bulb would have to run for seven hours straight before generating the same amount of energy that an iron will create in a little less than one hour 

The culprit in terms of why an iron uses so much energy, is the creation of heat, as heat generation is one of the most energy reliant processes.  

Personally, I don’t know too many people who have time to iron their clothes anymore so while this may not seem like a pressing issue (intensity wise, not how hard you’re holding your iron), this next one might surprise a lot of you. 


Generative AI is adding substantially to electricity demand. In 2021—well before the AI boom—artificial intelligence technology was already accounting for 10-15% of the internet’s electricity use. The demand for Generative AI and search engine use is set to double by 2026, which would make it roughly equal to the amount of electricity used by the entire country of Japan.  

Studies estimate that by 2027, worldwide AI-related electricity consumption could increase by more than 85 TWh (Terawatt-hour) annually based on projections for AI server production. However, the exact future is hard to predict, as further improvements in the efficiency of AI models or hardware could change the outcome. 

With AI already being integrated into search engines, more computing power is needed to train and run models. Experts say this could increase the computing power needed—as well as the energy used—by up to five times per search. Moreover, AI models need to be continually retrained to keep up to date with current information. 


Television/Cable Box 

I just moved so I don’t have a TV yet, but according to a survey done by sound vision, 98% of households in the United States have at least one television set and 34% have two. (Finally, I’m part of the 2 percent.) 

While TV and cable boxes have made incredible leaps in their energy efficiency within the last decade, many Americans have expressed that they have their TV running in the background, even if they aren’t watching it. According to the latest statistics, the average US adult is forecast to spend 2 hours and 48 minutes viewing television programs, and an additional hour just as background noise.   

The other problem with TV is that they often run even when you’re not using them. Those standby hours can rack up a lot of electricity usage, and as a result, your TV and cable box consume around 2% of your monthly electricity total.   


Coffee Machine 

I haven’t been in a home in the last ten years that didn’t have a coffee maker in some capacity. My office even has 4 of them. Most people who own or have access to a coffee machine use it at least once a day.  

When making coffee, a traditional drip machine will use around 300 to 600 watts for 2 cups of coffee and 1000 to 1500 watts for 8-10 cups of coffee. It is estimated that an average coffee maker will use 800 watts to produce 4 cups of coffee in 10 minutes. 

Add onto that the use of espresso machines and other fancy coffee makers. For example, a Keurig coffee maker typically uses between 1,200 to 1,500 watts of power. During the first cycle, it can use around 1,500 watts, and if you keep the warmer on after brewing, it will use about 200 – 400 watts. If we translate that energy used into cold hard cash, a high voltage coffee machine can run you up to 24 cents a day on your electric bill.  


Phone Charger 

According to the EPA, electronics account for 11% of energy use in the United States. That’s $19 billion per year used up for phantom energy—a fancy term for the electricity wasted by devices that are plugged in, but not used. Some of the most widely used electronics are smart phones and their chargers.  

Leaving a phone charger plugged into an outlet all day still uses 0.1 to 0.5 watts per hour, even when it isn’t actively charging anything. That isn’t a ton, but it’s definitely unnecessary waste. If you have a charger plugged in 24/7, you can add a few extra dollars onto your energy bill.  

Although the phone charger stops charging at 100%, it continues to draw power from the electrical outlet and consumes more energy than needed. Charging a phone requires no more than 52 watt-hours of energy, but being plugged in overnight can consume double or triple that amount. That would be the equivalent of leaving your television on for about three hours.  


Streaming Your Favorite Show 

Streaming services are by far the most popular choice for millennials and gen z when it comes to media consumption, with 77% of US adults aged 18 to 34 preferring it over cable TV. Once upon a time, headlines claimed that Netflix and YouTube were ruining the environment through their extreme carbon emissions and energy usage. While I wouldn’t go that far, these things do produce more C02 emissions than I’d ever considered.  

An estimate from the International Energy Agency claims that when an hour of Netflix has a similar carbon footprint to driving 3 miles. Although the carbon footprint of streaming videos remains relatively okay for now, it seems reasonable to expect the overall impact to rise, given exponential increases in usage over the years.  


On the Plus Side: 

I get that the high level of energy consumption in America can feel scary, but things aren’t all bad. Reusable energy sources are cutting costs and global energy emissions every day. On top of that, there are a couple of things that don’t use as much energy as people seem to think, which I think sort of balances it out. 


Light bulbs 

If you’re anything like me, your mom or dad would yell at you for leaving the kitchen light on all day. This brought me to the understanding as an adult that leaving a light on is killer for your energy consumption. But what if I told you that things have changed? 

Sure, maybe in the early 2000’s or 1990’s, leaving a light on might pile on some unnecessary dollars but now we have LEDs. For older, incandescent bulbs, only about 10% of the energy produced was used to create light. The other 90% was used to create heat. LED bulbs don’t have this issue, as they don’t generate heat the same way as older bulbs. Nowadays, the standard LED lightbulb uses about 90% less energy in total than their veteran counterparts.  

The most common LEDs only generate 9W as opposed to their incandescent counterparts which standardize around 65W. Leaving the bulb on for the whole day will therefore only cost you $0.0052 in a full 24 hours.

Global Energy Consumption 

The availability of energy has transformed the course of humanity over the last few centuries. Not only are new sources of energy always being discovered, but the sheer amount of energy that we can produce and consume is higher than it has ever been.  An estimated 15 trillion watts of power are being used across our planet at any given time. That’s the equivalent of powering ten billion 100-watt light bulbs at once. However, the hope is that smarter energy technologies, combined with the growth in renewable energy, will offset the increased energy consumption on our planet. 

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