Stakeholders discuss ways to improve energy labelling

Appliance energy labelling is due for revision this year. With some product categories far exceeding the original definitions and the EU committed to strengthening the scheme, Hannah Pearce reports on the debate
The European commission is preparing to make the shift from the plane of grand ambitions to the nitty-gritty of policy-making on energy labels. Proposals for revising the energy labelling rules are due in early 2008.
Energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs set the scene for the revision in October 2006. Presenting the EU’s Action Plan for Energy Efficiency, he committed the bloc to stronger fuel-efficiency labelling as part of a wider goal to provide European citizens with the world’s most energy-efficient appliances.
A month later in council, EU energy ministers made a revision and possible extension of the existing labelling system the first of five priority actions on energy efficiency.
Heralding the start of the revision, just before Christmas 2007 the environment and energy directorate (DG Tren) quietly published an impact study on ways to extend, tighten or simplify the 1992 framework directive that set up the scheme.
Alongside the study prepared by a team of consultants, including Europe Economics, DG Tren has also issued a consultation paper aiming “to identify the best ways to reinforce the impact of energy labelling” to help the EU meet its 20 per cent energy-saving target by 2020 through more sustainable production and consumption.
The impact study looked at individual products in both the household and commercial sector including boilers, electric motors, servers, tyres and windows. The researchers interviewed stakeholders such as governments, consumer groups and manufacturers in seven member states, along with representative bodies at European level.
Researchers assessed the likely impact of any policy changes, especially those that would either extend the scope or enhance the effectiveness of existing provisions. A “no action” scenario was also modelled, alongside one where current rules would be repealed and greater reliance would be made on voluntary initiatives (see figure 1).

Routes for change
The impact study concluded that the greatest overall benefit will come from action implementing existing legislation. Using a combination of powers under the energy labelling directive and eco-design directive, expansion of labelling provisions to a wider range of household appliances and non-household products would realise additional benefits.
Benefits could also be gained from developing a dynamic labelling system in place of the current static A-G scale. Moreover, in much the same way as there is a hierarchy in waste disposal policy, there would be a strong logic behind targeting appliances and products with a high energy use.
Anticipating these conclusions, in early December the European Committee of Domestic Equipment Manufacturers (CECED) published proposals for “a new dynamic open-ended energy labelling scale”.
Under this model, the A-G rating system would be replaced by a numeric scheme permitting continuous, easy addition of newly numbered classes to the top of the scale whenever a certain percentage of products entering the market reach the highest current category. It would also allow phase-out of the lowest-performing class of goods at the base of the scale.
The greenest label colouring would shift to the highest numeric class, applying to the best-performing products, while the least efficient would still be graded red.
CECED argues such a “rescaling of the energy label” would help consumers, offer predictability for business, and create flexibility for national support policies by eliminating the need for future reclassification. It would also offer “a better basis for an international approach to energy efficiency rating”. This would promote global convergence of appliance efficiency and boost ongoing improvement “unhindered by the delays associated with a time-consuming political revision process”.
To date the commission has not responded to the CECED proposals or its associated claim that in return for such changes producers would agree to phase out Class A refrigerators and freezers as soon as 2013. But sources close to the revision process told ENDS DG Tren “fully expects manufacturers to resist changes that may force them to change labelling or drop prices on down-rated appliances under tighter arrangements”. The commission, however, would probably “resist attempts to weaken or displace the current rating system that is well recognised by consumers”.

Defining the scope
Two arguments will significantly affect the shape and extent of energy labelling reform. One, finding supporters and opponents within the commission, concerns whether the energy label should evolve from a focus on energy use in operation to showing overall environmental performance and life-cycle impacts. The other, of particular concern to many NGOs, revolves around so-called minimum efficiency standards and how far energy label reform can or should be tied to progress under the eco-design directive.
Widening the label’s overall scope looks no more popular with DG Tren than changing the rating system. All such changes could seriously dilute the message to consumers and delay improvement of the energy label for years.
The linkage to eco-design is, however, getting more consideration with 19 product studies under way or complete. They cover nearly all products now carrying an energy label and others such as boilers and water heaters that are intended to soon acquire an energy label under the action plan.
These studies are likely to identify a minimum efficiency standard for the products that they assess and provide much of the technical information needed to revise the energy label.
DG Tren looks determined to use minimum efficiency standards to remove the least-efficient models from the market for a range of products. It also seems likely to push just as hard to ensure a modernised set of energy labels will drive the product research, development and marketing needed to deliver innovation and ongoing improvement in eco-design.

Tougher approach
Mariangiola Fabbri, energy policy officer with WWF, predicts many NGOs, retailers and significant parts of the manufacturing sector may oppose CECED’s proposals. They will want the commission to propose robust measures promptly and make decisions on immediate action, she says.
Likewise, for Fabbri, future EU energy labels need to show consumers how far and how fast products have developed. “We don’t need an easy numerical scheme designed to ensure producers can sit back and wait for new criteria before they develop better products. We need a robust database of products and regular revisions of the ratings in each product category so that established labels keep pace with technological developments and new ones can be applied to a much larger range of products. We also need to make sure there is no room for member states to change the label.”
On one thing the appliance manufacturers and consumer groups are united. Both will push for tougher enforcement arrangements at a national level and tough penalties to stop lawbreakers. Annual minimum targets for inspections and third-party appliance testing should result in surveillance reports to the commission and fines for non-compliance.

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