Sunday, July 16, 2006

Guest Post: Jake Bosarge: Energy Stay Labels

Reader Jake Bosarge sent this to me last week, and I thought I'd throw it out for discussion. Energy Star has certainly been a very successful government program (how often do you get to say that?), but, as Jake points out, the labeling system could use some improvements. I'll let him explain:

After thinking about how much energy could be saved if more people used energy efficient products/appliances, it occurred to me that most people do not know how efficient the products that they have or will buy are. Of course most new appliances have an Energy Star label on them, but there are two key problems with the Energy Star approach:

• First, there are many gray areas in the labeling (products rated Energy Star are more efficient, but some products are 50% more efficient than average and others are 20% more efficient, yet they both meet the cutoff so they get the Energy Star label. Similarly, products without the Energy Star label are less efficient by varying degrees). The problem is that having or not having the sticker implies that something is either efficient or not, which is misleading because some products are more efficient than others yet do not meet the Energy Star cutoff.

• Second, Energy Star only refreshes the "cutoff rate" (level of efficiency a product must achieve in order to receive the label) every decade or so. Improvements in science and technology are made every year, yet products qualify for an Energy Star rating based on outdated standards, put in place based on outdated technology. In short, standards should be refreshed far more often.

Of course, do not get me wrong: Energy Star IS beneficial, but it needs to be modified. Given the above deficiencies, I feel compelled to propose a new model. It would be updated annually based on scientific and technological advancements (changes could be large or small), and would be announced in advance so as to give companies time to prepare and plan (at least five years seems appropriate). Additionally, companies would be allowed to help create the standards so as to encourage the greatest efficiency-gain-per-dollar improvement. The labels, which would be on all products regardless of efficiency level, should include the year for which the standards were set, raw data (x kilowatts per x based on average use), estimated money saved (to help consumers justify the usually higher costs of energy efficient products), and the level of efficiency above the mandated requirements.

Additionally, there should be another sticker which displays the amount of power that is used by the product when it has been turned off (I am sure you have heard of the “vampire effect” of products which consume energy after they have been turned off). It could be integrated with the above described Energy Star label or remain stand alone.

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