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Energy Star label no guarantee of efficiency, audit finds

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Audit notes program flaws, and the DOE and EPA commit to having all of their products evaluated by certified independent laboratories.

By Eartheasy Posted Nov 2, 2009

energystar_label_01Consumers looking to buy energy-efficient appliances have come to rely on the Energy Star label as an assurance from the US Energy Department and the EPA that the appliance has met required specifications for energy efficiency. A recent audit by the US Energy Department (DOE), however, has criticized the program for its lack of oversight in tracking and verifying Energy Star labelled appliances.

The Energy Star ratings for certain products, like televisions and computers, may be “not accurate or verifiable” due to weak oversight, according to the EPA inspector general, Gregory H. Friedman.

The Energy Star program, initiated in 1996, is intended to provide consumers with an easily recognizable label which assures that appliance manufacturers have met required specifications for energy efficiency. The program has been widely adopted by manufacturers who realize the growing demand among consumers for energy-efficient products. But manufacturers of certain appliance products, such as refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, water heaters and air conditioners can certify these appliances themselves. This left the burden of oversight on the DOE and the EPA, and the recent audit has found these oversight efforts lacking.

The audit noted that while the government said in 2007 that it would conduct “retail assessments” to ensure that all the products carrying the Energy Star logo deserved them, it is still not doing so for some products which fall within the scope of the program. And the department is not following through to ensure that when inappropriately labeled products are identified, the labels are actually taken off, the audit said.

In October 2008, Consumer Reports magazine reported results from tests it had conducted on refrigerators that one manufacturer, LG of South Korea, applied Energy Star labels without meeting the required criteria. LG was required, in the ensuing settlement, to compensate customers for the extra power consumed, and to modify the appliance circuit boards of existing appliances to reduce power consumption. This case led to increased scrutiny of the oversight of the Energy Star program.

Under the new federal stimulus bill, $300 million will go to rebates for consumers who buy Energy Star products.

Increased focus on the Energy Star program has also been driven by the Obama administration in its efforts to reduce energy use and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions. Under the new federal stimulus bill, $300 million will go to rebates for consumers who buy Energy Star products. The timing of the audit, now on the desk of Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, should encourage the government to take steps to ensure consumer’s faith in the integrity of the Energy Star label.

Concerns about the Energy Star certification do not apply to all appliance and energy saving products which carry the Energy Star label. Manufacturers of windows, fluorescent lighting and LED lighting are required by the DOE to have independent laboratories evaluate their products.

The memorandum also called for a “super star” program within Energy Star to identify the top-performing 5 percent of products.

On Sept. 30, 2009, the DOE and the EPA signed a memorandum of agreement committing both agencies to having all of their products evaluated by certified independent laboratories, and to expand the Energy Star program to cover products that were not in common use when it began in 1996. The memorandum also called for a “super star” program within Energy Star to identify the top-performing 5 percent of products.

energystar_logoSo what’s a consumer to do? It’s always a good idea to cross-check appliance Energy Star ratings with independent results from consumer advocate resources such as Consumer Reports. Look to see if the appliance comes with a second source of information on its energy consumption, such as an energy rating system. Ask the retailer for additional energy consumption information. You can also monitor your energy use at home to find out how much energy your appliances use and whether that amount fluctuates throughout the day.

Consumers should still use the Energy Star label as a guideline. The Energy Department audit has done the service of bringing the program shortfalls to light, and new efforts by monitoring agencies will improve the rating system to build confidence in the Energy Star program.

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/john_tjp john_tjp

    I have seen this logo a lot for a long time. A very familiar sight when you power the computer and the monitor flickers to life, the energy star logo is the one I usually see first.

    I have always wondered if and when you do see the energy star logo, does it mean that it is the whole computer that follows energy efficiency standards as specified by EPA and the US DOE, or is it just the monitor?

    Lately I've been leaving my computer at home running unattended a lot. Two of my housemates frequently do the same too. I tend to turn off my screensaver and monitor power-down settings so that I can see what's going on immediately. Our electric bill has also risen by much, like almost twice the usual. I've always thought that TV consumes more energy than computers but it would seem the computers are even more power hungry. Is this true?

  • john_tip

    I have seen this logo a lot for a long time. A very familiar sight when you power the computer and the monitor flickers to life, the energy star logo is the one I usually see first.

    I have always wondered if and when you do see the energy star logo, does it mean that it is the whole computer that follows energy efficiency standards as specified by EPA and the US DOE, or is it just the monitor?

    Lately I've been leaving my computer at home running unattended a lot. Two of my housemates frequently do the same too. I tend to turn off my screensaver and monitor power-down settings so that I can see what's going on immediately. Our electric bill has also risen by much, like almost twice the usual. I've always thought that TV consumes more energy than computers but it would seem the computers are even more power hungry. Is this true?

  • john_tip

    I have seen this logo a lot for a long time. A very familiar sight when you power the computer and the monitor flickers to life, the energy star logo is the one I usually see first.

    I have always wondered if and when you do see the energy star logo, does it mean that it is the whole computer that follows energy efficiency standards as specified by EPA and the US DOE, or is it just the monitor?

    Lately I've been leaving my computer at home running unattended a lot. Two of my housemates frequently do the same too. I tend to turn off my screensaver and monitor power-down settings so that I can see what's going on immediately. Our electric bill has also risen by much, like almost twice the usual. I've always thought that TV consumes more energy than computers but it would seem the computers are even more power hungry. Is this true?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/greg_eartheasy Greg Seaman

      The conventional television would use more power. You can feel the heat and get an idea which uses more power, but the best source is shown on a UL label that shows the volts and watts. More watts is more heat is more power used to operate.

  • Mathieu

    Well, that is an interesting insight. I hope this survey results reaches the consumers so that they are at least having right expectations.

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