EPA, DOE Expand Energy Star Product Testing
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on March 19 outlined actions to further strengthen the Energy Star program, including a two-step process to expand testing of qualified products.
DOE has begun testing some of the most commonly used appliances, which account for more than 25 percent of a household's energy bill, and both agencies are now developing a system to test all products that earn the Energy Star label.
"Energy efficiency is more important than ever to American families," said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation. "As our economy gets back on its feet, Energy Star is an easy way for consumers to save money and help fight climate change."
"Consumers have long trusted the Energy Star brand for products that will save them energy and save them money," said Cathy Zoi, DOE Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. "The steps we're taking now will further strengthen and improve the program, building on the results that consumers have come to expect."
DOE recently began tests on six of the most common product types: freezers, refrigerator-freezers, clothes washers, dishwashers, water heaters and room air conditioners. DOE will test approximately 200 basic models at third-party, independent test laboratories over the next few months.
The expanded system will require all products seeking the Energy Star label to be tested in approved labs and require manufacturers to participate in an ongoing verification testing program that will ensure continued compliance.
In addition to testing, the agencies have taken enforcement action against 35 manufacturers in the past four months, including:
taking steps to remove the label from 20 LG refrigerator-freezer models that multiple independent labs confirmed were consuming more energy than allowed under the program criteria.
signing a consent decree with Haier on four of its freezer models – including two Energy Star models - that were consuming more energy than reported. As part of the agreement with DOE, Haier is required to notify all affected consumers, repair any defective units and pay $150,000 a voluntary contribution to the U.S. Treasury.
disqualifying 34 CFL models from 25 manufacturers that did not meet all of the program criteria for compact fluorescent light bulbs.
acting against four showerhead manufacturers that failed to certify 116 product models as meeting the federal water conservation standards.
initiating a civil penalty enforcement action against a manufacturer of air conditioners and heat pumps for failing to certify some of its products and for certifying other products when they had not been tested in accordance with DOE's test procedure.
initiating enforcement actions against two additional showerhead manufacturers suspected of selling products that do not meet the federal water conservation standards.
notifying US Inc/US Refrigeration that their partnership with Energy Star was terminated based on a history of logo misuse, unresponsiveness, and pattern of failure to comply with program guidelines.
The program already has a comprehensive system in place to ensure consumer confidence. To receive an Energy Star label, manufacturers must submit data to the federal government showing that their product meets a set of clear, measurable energy efficiency program requirements outlined on www.energystar.gov,. DOE and EPA conduct "off the shelf" and third-party testing of a wide range of products bearing the label. In 2009, EPA tested 20 TV models and 16 imaging products and found 100 percent compliance. In addition, Energy Star qualified windows, doors, and skylights must be independently tested by the National Fenestration Rating Council, an independent nonprofit organization with rigorous testing procedures monitored and supported by DOE.
Market driven competition also provides a valuable insurance policy on the brand. Manufacturers know the label is attractive to consumers, and often test a competing product to ensure it complies with the requirements. Suspected violations can be reported to the EPA or DOE for follow-up.
When a violation is found, the right to use the Energy Star label is revoked, corrective measures are required and the partnership may be terminated. For example, in 2008 under DOE pressure, LG Electronics agreed to pay back consumers for promised energy savings and provide free, in-home upgrades to improve several models of refrigerators. These cases also produce substantial unfavorable publicity for manufacturers, which can be very costly and create a major disincentive for companies to violate the program requirements.
Violations of the Energy Star label tend to get big media attention, which is good, because it provides a strong disincentive for companies to skirt the system and risk a wave of negative coverage about their product. At the same time, consumers should be aware that in the past few years, the number of violations has been quite small, especially given that more than 40,000 individual products carry the Energy Star label.
In 2009, EPA's independent Inspector General conducted a "spot check" of the program, testing 60 products. Fifty-nine percent of the 60 products met or exceeded the requirements. One product, a specific model of printer, failed on one of three tests (not entering "sleep mode" fast enough).