European manufacturers get all worked up over energy labels
Thursday, July 16, 2015
The cooling and heating industries in Europe have come together in a rare alliance with their compadres in the lighting sector to voice their concerns over the European Commission's latest initiative.
The EC's proposal, announced this week, will "recalibrate" its decade-old energy-labeling scheme. But rather than improving consumer-driven energy efficiency, which is the intention, the EC could actually be fostering confusion with its policy, these groups suggest.
On the face of it, the EC's intentions look good. The scheme, whereby all sorts of products — from refrigerators to TVs (and, starting next year, boilers and furnaces, too) — have been given an A-to-G rating has been hugely popular with consumers as a way of comparing energy efficiency.
But the fact that the scale has been unchanged for 10 years while technology has improved means that nearly all the D-G ratings are now redundant. Some categories, the EC notes, are only rated A and above. And there has been such a proliferation of pluses since they were introduced in 2010 — reaching A+++ in some product categories — that the ratings are becoming unwieldy and confusing.
"Such a positive result now makes it difficult for consumers to distinguish the best performing products," the EC notes. "They might think that in buying an A+ class product they are buying one of the most efficient on the market, while in fact they are sometimes buying one of the least efficient ones."
So the proposal is to recalibrate the scheme so the scale is returned to the original A-to-G rating, theoretically making it easier for the consumer to compare their products.
Sounds pretty logical, right? The cooling, heating and lighting industries think not.
The combined might of the European Heating Industry (EHI), refrigeration and air conditioning body European Partnership for Energy and Environment (EPEE) and lighting association Lighting Europe have warned that it may have completely the opposite effect on consumers. Their beef is that if a product is suddenly "downgraded" from an A down to an E, then the consumer risks being put off purchasing it altogether.
"We fully support the European Commission's goal of increasing energy efficiency in Europe by encouraging consumers to make more energy-efficient purchase choices," the groups said in a joint statement. "However, we caution that the proposed new Energy Labelling Regulation unveiled today could have, in a number of cases, the opposite effect by slowing down the uptake of energy-efficient appliances."
The combined bodies accept that some categories do need a revision, such as refrigerators or washing machines, where they agree "the energy label top classes are getting saturated due to technological development and innovation." But they say the new scheme as proposed, is a blunt instrument, intended to solve a problem that exists with only a few products.
"A problem for one or two products should not prevent a well-designed system from unleashing its potential for energy efficiency," the group stated. "The current framework legislation already offers a solution for that: changing the product-specific regulations."
Federica Sabbati, secretary general of the EHI, said: "Europe should not miss its energy efficiency target. The potential for energy saving in the heating sector is huge, as space and water heating account for 85 percent of the energy consumption in a building. The label should help modernize the inefficient stock by fostering the market uptake of extremely efficient technologies."
Andrea Voigt, director general of EPEE, added: "The review of the Energy Labelling Directive could prove to be counter-productive by confusing consumers and creating more red tape. In line with the Better Regulation principle, we call on decision-makers to preserve the effectiveness of the Energy Label by ensuring it helps consumers choose energy-efficient products and provides incentives for industry to invest in those products."
In all the furor over A-G ratings, though, the second part of the EC announcement is in danger of getting overlooked — and this one has the potential to really make a difference to the supply industry. This is the proposal to institute a central database for all products, whereby all manufacturers and importers will be required to upload all their product labeling details.
While it is currently a legal obligation to label all energy-using products, it will not surprise readers to learn that some European manufacturers simply ignore their responsibilities. The EC estimates that between 10 percent and a staggering 25 percent of products do not currently comply with the labeling regulations.
Such noncompliance brings an estimated energy penalty to the European region of around 10 percent, the EC says. Requiring the details to be entered onto the database will help the enforcing authorities in each country to work out who is complying, without the usual rigmarole of demanding the information from each individual supplier.
For its part, the EC sees an opportunity to further drive energy efficiency and in the process to bring manufacturers around 10 billion euro a year in increased sales from less-confusing labeling.
Of course, it also believes there will be significant energy savings accruing, as consumers choose what is actually the most efficient product, rather than what seems to be. The EC estimates, with a particularly specific boast, that the revision of the A-G rating will provide savings equivalent to the annual energy consumption of the Baltic countries combined (17 million tons of oil equivalent).
With figures like that, it is hard to see how the EC will be dissuaded from its labeling crusade. The cooling and heating industries have a fight on their hands.
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