ALL over the world, electrical appliances are blinking away on standby - and burning so much energy they need 60 coal-fired electricity stations a year to power them, analysis by the International Energy Agency has found.
''That seems ridiculous just to cover appliances that are supposedly turned off,'' said Nigel Jollands, who heads the agency's energy efficient unit that conducted the research.
Dr Jollands advises world leaders on energy efficiency and is in Australia this week to speak at the Energy Efficiency Council conference in Melbourne. But he admits that he cannot even get his own family to turn off the microwave at the wall.
''We've given up in our own house because trying to get around the back of the microwave to switch it off is just stupid, and then when you turn it back on it takes three minutes to reboot,'' he told the Herald.
His agency is promoting a ''one watt standard'' to manufacturers - calling for appliances to use one watt on standby rather than the 20 watts that are used even by some appliances that consume only 25 watts when fully switched on.
The energy agency says efficiency is the fastest way to cut greenhouse gas emissions. But its most recent report on the subject, published last month, shows that despite promises by leaders none of its member countries, including Australia, has substantially implemented most of its recommendations.
Australia's track record is especially lagging when it comes to building and transport efficiency, Dr Jollands said.
This week he will meet the Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, and the Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, to advocate that energy efficiency is crucial whether or not the nation adopts an emissions trading scheme.
He said the Government had to do more to make commercial buildings and older homes more energy efficient.
''Australia does not have a very strong energy efficiency standard in the building code. It's far behind many other countries.''
While praising the nation's improvements to appliance efficiency standards, he pointed out that about 80 per cent of the agency's efficiency recommendations for transport had not been introduced and there was still no legally enforceable fuel efficiency standard.
Dr Jollands believes legal standards on energy efficiency are important where the market is failing to deliver reform and cited the example of set-top boxes for pay television, which are usually switched on all day, every day.
In most homes and offices, set-top boxes are supplied by a company that has no incentive to make them energy efficient because the electricity bills are paid by the consumer. An analysis by the energy agency found that in the United States about 150 million switched-on set-top boxes burned the equivalent of six supertankers of oil a year.
Dr Jollands said there was a cultural aversion to regulation in some parts of the world, but if the market was not working, regulations could be effective without imposing additional costs.