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AC wall adapters and power bricks consume a huge amount of energy, whether the appliance is in use or not. This concept would be a ac adapter in communication with the appliance, and would sense user activity. The protocol would allow for periodic, synchronized sense of load; otherwise, the adapter draws
little or no power from the mains.
LCG3 "Smart Power Strip"
When the controlling outlet starts drawing less power, the secondary outlets are switched off. [jutta, Feb 25 2007]
Mini Power Minder
USB connection tells it when the computer boots and shuts down; power to a second outlet is switched based on that. Plug peripherals into a power strip, and the strip into the secondary outlet. [jutta, Feb 25 2007]
||So-called "Vampire devices" such as cable tv boxes, stereos, televisions and chargers for laptops and cell phones use power when not in use. [+]
||You don't actually have to talk to the appliance - busy appliances draw more current.
This is exploited by the "Smart Power Strip" series (with or without surge protection); see link. A more minimal form that does use a separate communication line is the "Mini Power Minder", see second link.
||Never seen this on something AC powered, but the 12 volt DC cellphone charger I use in the car does shut itself off when the phone is not connected. [+].