gas-fired powerplant
gas-fired powerplant

The hidden threat of sludge consumption

During weekdays I do nice big renewable energy projects. But at home this of course does not stop. Saving the planet is not a part-time job. Therefore I also do projects on a much smaller scale…

The invisible force of electricity has always sparked my imagination. It is difficult to fully grasp the characteristics of the magical electrical power which drives our everyday household appliances. Talking about what cannot be known fully, we start from the common ground of what is familiar to us. For electricity this always have been the metaphor of water. We try to “see” the currents that flow through the wires in our house.

This invisibility of currents lies at the heart of a problem that I came across in doing precise measurements on my household appliances: sludge consumption. I was, like most of us, familiar with the planet wrecking consumption of apparatus in stand-by modus. Those small red LED’s that flag a small but pitiful crime of wasting energy without providing any functionality at all. I started to build an electricity measurement setup based on a Zigbee network. And I immediately discovered that all plugs of appliances that were connected to wall sockets leaked! Even when they were completely turned off without any standby mode at all!

My first measurements were on the coffee machine; that dripped 0.6 watt continuously. The microwave even dripped 2.3 Watt all day long. One might say that 2.3 Watt is not much. But it drips continuously so 8760 hours a year. The imaginary bucket I had put to rescue filled itself with water in no time. After a year the loss was more than 20.148 kWh. I had a nightmare in which I saw a microwave leaking in every household. The next morning, I calculated that the 226 million households in the EU wasted 4,453,448,000 kWh a year! Just by having a microwave! I immediately turned to the energy calculations I recently did for 3 MW wind turbines. We need more than 750 (!) wind turbines just to have our microwaves dripping. I mean they are not even turned on in this figure. And that is only one leaking appliance….

Weapon of mass destruction

By the way, the only wall plugs that didn’t drip, while being connected and shut off, were lights.

Recently I experienced the amount of damage a tiny water leak can bring about when being unnoticed for a longer period. My bathroom had to be completely redecorated. The leaking of electricity had to be stopped. I felt like the Dutch boy Hansje Brinker putting his little finger in the dike. But how to battle this ongoing leakage. Where to start? There are plugs in socket’s everywhere…

Gas-fired powerplant
Gascentrale Rotterdam 
We could shut down a 600 MW power plant if we would stop our microwaves from leaking...

Simply unplugging all the devices seemed a little bit inconvenient. Including the WAF (wife acceptance factor) was low I experienced after practicing this solution for a full week. It kept me puzzled for days.  

As in so many cases the solution to this problem was hidden within in the nature of the problem itself. The fact that the dripping was invisible had to be turned around. Everyone would close a leaking tap because of its visibility and produced sound.

Strategic Planet Saving Device


After some straying around in our local construction market I found a beautiful low-tech solution. This plug was able to visualize the dripping by a switching on a red LED when the electricity was fed to the device. The throughput plug that I have found had both a switch (circuit breaker) and a signaling LED and therefore was the perfect solution.


Now I have solved this problem in my house I have to turn to my fellow 259,999,999 EU households; Spread the word! Pull your plugs and save the planet!