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All change on the energy efficiency labelling front

16 April 2009

Most household appliances are currently labelled according to a user-friendly, colour-coded ‘A-G’ system introduced in the 1990s, with ‘A’ representing the most efficient and G the least. With most appliances meeting the current ‘A’ rating (thanks to the industry’s efforts to meet government targets), the EU has now decided to introduce an “updated” labelling scheme for those appliances that achieve even higher efficiencies. Extra energy efficiency classes such as A-20%, A-40%, etc will now be used on appliances to denote how much more efficient they are than those carrying a straight ‘A’ rating. The move has not gone down well with consumers, who feel that the addition of numbers will only serve to confuse an otherwise perfectly workable system.

And things are not much clearer on the industrial front, where the energy efficiency classification of motors is about to change. We should, by now, have all become used to the motor efficiency classifications Eff1, Eff2 and Eff3, which were introduced more than ten years ago. Of course, they remain valid today, but over the next few years there will be a staged introduction of the new harmonised motor efficiency standard IEC 60034-30, which defines three new International Efficiency (IE) classes: IE1 (which, contrary to Eff1, is the lowest efficiency), IE2 and IE3 – the last of these defining ‘Premium’ efficiency class, while IE2 is equivalent to Eff1. All clear on that one then?

In both cases, and lending a little sympathy to the legislators for the complexities they face, these reclassifications reflect some pretty impressive technological advances on both domestic and industrial fronts. In 1999, A-rated refrigerators accounted for just 4% of all refrigerator purchases, but by April last year, that figure had risen to almost 72%. Washing machines saw an increase from 12% to almost 100% over the same period. Likewise, industrial motor efficiency has improved considerably since the introduction of the Eff ‘x’ rating system back in 1998 and ‘Premium’ efficiency motors, which originally lay outside this classification, have now become more commonplace and had to be embraced by the new IE scheme.

Some confusion is certain to reign, particularly with regard to the new IE scheme during the early stages of its implementation. However, what we should not lose sight of is the fact that this new harmonised IEC standard will eventually save a lot of motor manufacturers and users the time and efforts required to test their machines against a whole raft of different national standards – around ten of them at the last count, covering most of the world’s major markets.

Let’s go electric!
While on this energy efficiency topic, it was interesting to learn last week that the government is offering subsidies of up to £5,000 to those trading in their all-internal combustion engine powered cars for a ‘plug-in’ electric hybrid or all-electric alternative - part of the government’s £250m five-year plan to promote low carbon transport. It sounds tempting, but eligible vehicles are unlikely to hit the market for at least another two years and electric propulsion is likely to remain an expensive option, thanks to the industry’s huge investment in battery technology. By the time you discount your subsidy, even at the highest rate of £5,000, you may still be better off buying an efficient diesel powered vehicle.

The industry is unsurprisingly upbeat about the plan; any scheme that can give even the slightest prod to the current moribund market is to be welcomed. But there are other hurdles to overcome, not least being the need to install some form of battery charging infrastructure. Currently available hybrids are fine because the charging occurs internally, but these won’t be eligible under the scheme. The government is keen to see growth in all-electric vehicles or, at least, those hybrids that can also be externally charged - and that will require a network of charging points, particularly for residents of urban areas who don’t have the luxury of private drives.

In last week’s announcement, the government said it would earmark £20 million for charging points, but that really is a drop in the ocean when you consider the work involved.

And just how green are electric vehicles? Unless we invest more heavily in renewable energy supplies and, dare I say it, nuclear power (an area also addressed by the government last week), we are unlikely to gain much in terms of reduced carbon dioxide emissions, as the additional load transfers to our existing creaking power generation infrastructure.

Les Hunt

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