MADRID -- It has been called "vampire power" or "phantom load," likened to the power-hungry HAL 9000 computer in Stanley Kubrick's movie, "2001: A Space Odyssey."
The unblinking little red light on the television set is silently drawing energy from the grid, and studies show it can add 10 percent or more to a household energy bill.
Now Spanish entrepreneurs claim to have invented a way to end a problem that has bedeviled energy regulators, environmentalists and appliance manufacturers. They have patented an algorithm that can detect when an appliance is in standby mode and automatically switch it off completely.
The standby-mode killer has yet to be proven commercially and must contend with other new products designed to tackle the same problem. But despite some doubters, the Spanish inventors say theirs is the only product able to completely do away with a large, and growing, worldwide problem.
"We have a product on the table that will solve the standby problem definitively," says Jorge Juan García, a founder of Good for You, Good for the Planet, the Madrid-based company that invented the technology.
Created to help the world's couch potatoes turn the tube on and off without having to make the arduous 6-foot journey to the TV set, the standby feature has spread to virtually every appliance in the home and office.
Microwave ovens, cellphone chargers, DVD players, computer monitors and printers all silently consume power when they aren't in use.
The cumulative result is huge. A study by the European Commission found that Europeans waste $9 billion a year paying for appliances in standby mode, which account for about 10 percent of total energy use.
The drain can be higher. A study by the University of California, Berkeley, found that such snoozing machines consume as much as 26 percent of electricity used in gadget-stuffed homes in California.
Machines on standby are responsible for about 1 percent of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.