May 26, 2009
| by Steven Castle
Will we see energy use labels on TVs, computers, monitors and other electronics anytime soon? The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is looking into a program that could require labels detailing the energy use of some consumer electronics, and has received feedback from a variety of trade groups.
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), for one, backs the idea of energy disclosures, but wants more research to take place before appliance-like EnergyGuide labels are slapped on TVs, computers and the like.
“The concept [of energy disclosures] makes a lot of sense. The question is how to implement it in a way to make sense for consumers,” says CEA’s senior director of technology policy Douglas Johnson. “Before the government does something, there should be some research on where consumers would want to find energy information, and where it would be most useful.”
The CEA readily concedes that most buyers of consumer electronics want energy efficient products, and cites its own research study that found that 89 percent of consumers ranked energy efficiency as a top consideration for their next television purchase. “But there needs to flexibility in disclosing the information,” Johnson says. “Research will show what will make the most sense in how to display that information.”
Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America, for one, has no qualms about a labeling program. “Although research has demonstrated the importance that consumers associate with energy efficient televisions in their purchasing decisions, consumers understandably have a difficult time comparing the energy performance of televisions,” the company writes in its comments to the FTC.
“Presently, the only indication a consumer has is whether the device has an Energy Star logo, which attempts to indicate that the device is at or above the 75th percentile of similar sized models,” Mitsubishi adds. “However, the spread between power consumption at the 75th percentile and 99th percentile can be as much as 433 watts to less than 135 watts for a 65-inch (diagonal) television, a difference of more than 300 percent.”
Granted, Mitsubishi has some interest in using energy labels to market its energy-efficient LaserVue TV, but the points the company makes are compelling. Likewise, Motorola doesn’t think cable set-top boxes should require labels.
The FTC also has to determine how to best disclose energy use information on the Internet.
The FTC was ordered under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 to develop a plan for energy consumption labeling program for TVs, personal computers, set-top boxes, stand-alone DVRs and PC monitors. A deadline of 18 months was contingent on the Department of Energy having test procedures, but with the DOE lacking these, there is no longer any deadline for the FTC to make an energy label program happen. The FTC recently collected comments from a variety of groups, including the CEA, on how to best implement a labeling program, test procedures and what information should be disclosed.
For energy use disclosures, the CEA would like to see an estimated yearly operating cost figure and an estimated yearly electricity use figure. The CEA says it does not advocate using a range bar with an indicator of where a particular product ranks in energy consumption, compared to similar products, as is seen on the EnergyGuide labels for appliances.
Johnson cites the difficulty in doing that with electronic products, due to their short life cycles and the wide range of feature sets that can affect energy consumption.
But is it that hard to give to quick range bar, showing the highest and lowest consumption in that category, as refrigerators and other appliances have ranges of different feature sets as well. “But not as much as electronics, Johnson contends, “and we have shorter product life cycles.”
Mitsubishi disagrees with the CEA in its comments to the FTC, at least as far as TVs are concerned. The company says the FTC should require disclosure for range of comparability similar to EnergyGuide labels, but that comparisons should be made by screen size only, not across display technologies or screen resolution.
Stay tuned. It’s our bet that an energy labeling program will happen, despite the obstacles. The public wants to see energy-efficient products, and anyone who has shopped for a TV or computer product in a retail store should know that there simply isn’t enough information on energy usage to make proper buying decisions.
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates