You’ve probably heard that the Energy Independence and Security Act signed into law on Wednesday increases gas mileage for automobiles in the United States. But the new law also promotes more efficient home electronics and lighting—and requires the power consumption of TVs, PCs and other electronics to be disclosed to shoppers.
Under the new law, the Federal Trade Commission will require power consumption labels for TVs, personal computers, cable and satellite set-top boxes, stand-alone digital video recorders (DVRs), and personal computer monitors. However, testing procedures still have to be put into place before this occurs.
“Once these products are labeled and consumers have choices, it will [spur] manufacturers to make them more efficient, and that will enable Energy Star to set better criteria,” says Lowell Ungar, director of policy for the Alliance to Save Energy. Energy Star is a government-backed ratings program for energy-efficient products.
Starting in July 2008 external power supplies, also called AC adapters, such those used by laptop computers, must meet energy efficiency requirements, depending on their power output. According to energy efficiency expert Chris Calwell, vice president of research and policy for Ecos Consulting, the new standards could save consumers $189 million in year in electricity costs, compared with the power used by many older inefficient external power supplies still being used. Calwell says many newer external power supplies already meet the new specifications, because the new federal requirements match those from California and several states with soon-to-be-enacted laws.
Battery chargers like those used by cell phones are not included in the requirements for power supplies. The Department of Energy has until July 2011 to prescribe energy conservation measures for battery chargers, or decide that no measures are needed. External power supplies and battery chargers can be inefficient in using electricity and can still draw electrical current when they remain plugged into a power outlet. See Why Your Electronics Suck (Energy) for more information on this problem.
Perhaps most importantly, the new law makes plans to phase out inefficient incandescent light bulbs, starting in 2012. According to Ungar, categories for incandescent light bulbs as bright as 100 watts will have to be 72 watts or less. That means more use of halogen, compact fluorescent and LED (light emitting diode) bulbs and fixtures.
Some newer and more efficient bulbs will certainly be more expensive than the inefficient incandescent bulbs still largely used today, but Ungar says they will result in “billions and billions of savings for consumers,” due to their higher energy efficiencies and longer usefulness.
How important is the lighting provision? Lighting makes up much of our electricity needs, and electricity generation accounts for more than 40 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, eclipsing that of all cars, trucks and airplanes. According to Philips Electronics, by phasing out traditional incandescent light bulbs, the United States could cut light bulb electricity use by 60 percent by 2020. The light bulb standard alone can cut Americans’ electric bills up to 18 billion dollars annually, the company says.
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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