Ensuring Energy Efficiency

Energy using products are covered by a range of different types of energy standards worldwide. Focusing on electrical and electronic products these include:

• Requirements for power management, such that a device switches automatically into the lowest power mode possible for the function required.

• Reductions in power consumption, where the power consumed for a given task is reduced, such as modal power caps or allowances.

• Requirements to inform consumers and users and label devices on their energy use, and how to use them in a way to minimise energy use.

Standards may involve voluntary commitments, such as US Energy Star (US Environmental Protection Agency 2015), or sector voluntary agreements used in the EU (2009/125/EC), US (US Department of Energy 2015a), Australia and New Zealand (E3 2015a); regulatory requirements, such as EU Energy Using Products (2009/125/ EC) and Energy Labelling Directives (2010/30/EU), and Australia and New Zealand Minimum Energy Performance Standards (E3 2015b), and US Federal energy efficiency standards (US Department of Energy 2015b); or regulatory benchmarks, such as Japan's 'top runner' programme to ensure all best technologies are adopted over time according to leading products on the market (Energy Conservation Centre Japan 2015).

As technological development and innovation occurs relatively rapidly, energy efficiency requirements are typically organised into a succession of chronological 'tiers' over which requirements are ratcheted up. To comply producers may either need to retain technical documentation and test reports showing that their products meet each of the applicable criteria (as in the EU and Australia), or in some cases may be required to submit their products themselves for testing and certification (as under US Energy Star requirements). Non-compliant products may either lose their certification status and must withdraw or change energy labels used, or ultimately, if mandatory standards are involved, producers may face fines and sales blocks.

The most complex challenge for producers is to understand and keep pace with the future energy implications of technological development. With the pace of technological advancement, energy efficiency standards are updated every few years to ensure improvement vs. 'business as usual'. Such assessments consider and compare estimates of total energy use for any potential improvements, considering power consumed, usage time, and number of units of a product in use to calculate estimates of total electricity consumption (TEC).

To engage in this process, producers need in-depth understanding and available research on their consumer usage behaviour, and the energy implications of different technology scenarios, to consider energy implications at the early stages of product development, and also to engage with and gain the understanding of stakeholders such as environmental and consumer NGOs. Predicting power consumption of future technology 3–4 years in advance, considering the timescales for developing new regulations, involves large amounts of risk for producer. Where it may not be clear the extent to which a new energy efficient technology may be suitable, or what implications it may have, further research and development may be needed. Unless producers engage in continuous dialogue with policy makers and NGO stakeholders at an early stage, regulations and standards may be developed based on only rudimentary understanding of their products and services, which may not result in optimal solutions to energy efficiency and may impede innovation.

Compliance with energy standards appears relatively straight forward in comparison to substance compliance (discussed above) and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) (discussed below). This is because standards are uniformly applied and relatively easy to assess. The challenge for producers is to anticipate and even influence the direction of future energy policy and standards. If producers are unable to keep pace and comply with these evolving standards, they may be forced to withdraw many of their products, as recently observed for vacuum cleaners that could not meet 1,800 W power cap within the EU (BBC 2014).

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