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issue: February 2008 APPLIANCE Magazine

European Association of Household Appliance Producers Editorial
Beyond "A"—Tomorrow’s Energy Label

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by Luigi Meli, director general, European Association of Household Appliance Producers (CECED)

A new energy-labeling system can help Europe achieve its targets for energy-efficiency improvements and greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Climate change is high on the agenda of today’s policymakers all over the world, especially in Europe, where political leaders have set ambitious targets to meet the challenge of global warming. They have committed to improving the EU’s energy efficiency by 20% by the year 2020 and to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the same time period by at least 20% as compared to 1990 levels. Realistically, these “Twenty-twenty Twenty” targets cannot be achieved by a single magic solution. A joint effort will be necessary, involving as many industrial sectors and other sections of society as possible.

Over the past decade and more, appliance manufacturers in Europe have significantly reduced the energy consumption of their products and increased their overall efficiency. These improvements were largely driven by the very successful EU energy label with the A-to-G rating scale. But that scale is now out of date, unable to respond to the challenges of a new age of energy-efficiency requirements. It needs to be adapted now to promote a new round of dynamic product improvement, providing clarity for consumers, predictability for manufacturers, and flexibility for national government consumer incentive schemes.

European household appliances have moved up the A-to-G scale continuously since the mid-1990s when the scheme was introduced, already reaching the A class in many product categories. To avoid a reclassification of the rating-scale categories, policymakers added provisional “A+” and “A++” classes to accommodate the better energy performance of products such as refrigerators and freezers. These additional classes were introduced as temporary, partial labeling measures by member states and were thus not a long-lasting solution to encourage the quickest diffusion of highly energy-efficient products.

As manufacturers in Europe have moved beyond “A” for products like refrigerators or washing machines, the time for talk and temporary fixes is over. There is no place for empty promises; Europe’s policymakers (and notably the EU) need to come up with a fresh new approach that retains the best elements of the existing system and adapts the energy label to the needs of today’s energy-efficiency agenda. More of the same is not a realistic option and a simple rescaling of the A-to-G categories (implying a commercially damaging reclassification “down” of all models currently marketed) will not do.

In December 2007, CECED unveiled its proposals for a new, open-ended labeling scheme that can be dynamically updated to accommodate the continued improvement of products. The CECED prototype retains the basic form and color scheme of today’s label but features a rising numeric scale (instead of the A to G) to denote relative energy efficiency, which can be adapted as the market and technology evolve.

The start point would be a 1-up-to-7 performance scale, with Class 1 at the bottom in red denoting the least-energy-efficient models and Class 7 at the top in bright green the most efficient available. When more efficient models are established on the market, a new Class 8 rating would be introduced at the top end and the seven-step color scale adjusted up in consequence, with Class 1 dropping out at the bottom. This allows for progressive upgrading to keep up the competitive pressure between manufacturers to develop and market more energy-efficient appliances.

Apart from the obvious advantage of enabling continuous updating at the top and phase-out at the bottom of the energy performance scale, this open-ended scale offers other benefits. The arrow bars and coloring scheme provide continuity with the existing label, ensuring ongoing brand recognition by consumers. Today, “A” is no longer always the best. With the open-ended numeric scale, the consumer will always be able to identify the best class easily when looking at the label—it will wear the brightest green and carry the highest number.

Furthermore, the possibility for continuous updating of the numeric label in the future without the need for reclassification of categories will eliminate consumer confusion because a Class 7 appliance will remain a Class 7 always, even when a Class 8, 9 or 10 is added at the top.

Seen from the manufacturer’s angle, the performance criteria for future performance categories could and should be known in advance, which would create necessary predictability for planning investment and marketing programs. And national governments will be guaranteed not only predictability but also the essential flexibility they need for progressive support policies to promote consumer uptake of the most energy-efficient models relative to local needs and incomes.

Finally, the numeric, open-ended approach to labeling has the potential to be the basis of an international approach to energy-efficiency rating and thereby to promote global convergence of appliance efficiency.

If we are to optimize the energy savings potential of today’s top-performing appliances towards the “Twenty-twenty Twenty” targets, a label alone will not suffice. Combining a new energy label with legislation to phase out the least-performing products will spur introduction of top-performing new models. As refrigerators and freezers are in constant operation, they are the most relevant from an energy-efficiency perspective and should be the priority. With the right energy label in place, the appliance industry in Europe is ready to accept phase-out of all current Class B refrigerators and freezers as soon as the EU can get legislation in place, and all Class A refrigerators and freezers by 2013.

That said, it is essential that efforts by manufacturers are properly supported by government. Better market surveillance is vital to stop free-riders who abuse the labeling system. And smart incentives are needed to accelerate the replacement of energy-inefficient appliances still in use in millions of European homes with state-of-the-art equipment. It is a combination of all these elements that will truly create new energy-efficiency dynamism in European households.

Meanwhile, the EU must get on and inject new energy into its energy-labeling scheme!


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