Grade inflation for TVs and fridges
Imagine you’re buying a new television, and you see an energy efficiency label of A+. If you’ve done your research, you know that’s the highest rating for TVs in Europe from 2014, so you buy it.
But what you may not have known is that television technology has already surpassed the EU’s schedule for energy labeling, which means some makers may already be using the A++ or A+++ ratings that were not due to take effect for another two to five years.
“Because the market has been so quick and innovative, you’ve got TVs that are so energy efficient the producers have been forced to use a labeling scheme that was only supposed to come into force in 2017 or 2020,” said Stephane Arditi, the products and waste policy manager at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), a federation of environmental groups. “So it means the labeling scheme is running after the market, rather than boosting innovation, which was the idea.”
That scheme may start to catch up to innovation this summer, after the European Commission releases a much-anticipated review of the energy labeling directive passed in 2010.
Maros Šefčovič, the EU’s vice president for the Energy Union, has consistently said improving the rules for rating the energy use for fridges, washing machines, televisions and other electric appliances is a cornerstone for the proposed energy union.
“Not only because this framework will deliver by 2020 energy savings that are roughly the equivalent of annual primary energy consumption of Italy, not only because consumers can save several hundreds of euros per household per year, but also because there is a clear business case,” Šefčovič said of energy labeling in a recent speech.
The Commission plans to give details on how it wants to improve energy labeling rules in the summer package, which is expected to be released by the end of July.
The incumbent European Council presidency, Latvia, said it supports the Commission’s plans, and the next in line to the presidency — Luxembourg — intends to make sure the rules are updated during its term, which starts in July, if they have not been done sooner, according to a source close to the transition team.
“For some colleagues, the energy union is about getting together to stand up against Russia. For the Luxembourg presidency it’s also about increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand, and eco-labeling is an important part of that,” the source said. “We need to update the system so it again becomes relevant to helping consumers find the sort of goods they want.”
The Luxembourgish permanent representation declined to comment before the start of its presidency.
The Commission’s plan has received strong backing, although, according to the environmental bureau, it will only be the first step to improving a system that is so outdated that the four lowest ratings for white goods (fridges, washing machines, etc.) — D, C, B and A — are no longer used. That leaves A+, A++ and A+++.
The Commission is expected to introduce a new scale running from A, at the top, to G, at the bottom. To avoid having to revise the scale too often, it may choose to leave some of the highest categories empty for the arrival of newer, even more efficient products.
But the best way for labeling to keep up with, and adjust, to innovation is to make it digital, the way Australia already has, said Arditi.
If that happened, an EU-wide database would keep track of all products and their energy efficiency scores, and constantly update them as newer, more efficient products came onto the market. It would also allow consumers to compare the ratings of old and new appliances using a smartphone app such as the EcoGator.
“We need to investigate the digital label, because we are moving to a digital society where more and more people are buying online and using the Internet to make their decisions,” Arditi said.