YONKERS, New York, September 3, 2008 (ENS) - Lax standards and out-of-date test protocols that are not independently verified weaken the federal Energy Star program used to identify energy efficient appliances, according to a report in the latest issue of "Consumer Reports" magazine published Tuesday.
"The percent of products that qualify for Energy Star is increasing because standards are too easy to reach and federal test procedures haven't kept pace with new technology," the report states.
Energy Star is a 16 year old voluntary program administered by the Energy Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that covers more than 50 product categories such as lighting, home electronics, office equipment, and home heating and cooling. The program establishes nationwide guidelines and uses a logo that identifies energy-efficient products.
In a statement Tuesday, the EPA says it "stands by the integrity of the Energy Star program."
But the report points out that to qualify, companies self-certify that their products comply with the standards. The Energy Department does not test products for compliance with Energy Star standards, and often there is no independent verification of what manufacturers report, Consumers Reports states.
Qualifying Energy Star appliances and consumer electronics should use about 10 to 25 percent less than the Energy Department's maximum allowed amount for that category.
Tests conducted by the magazine's staff found the energy consumption claims reported on some products' EnergyGuide label to "understate significantly" what consumers are likely to experience.
Consumer Reports' comparative energy tests of refrigerators, which the magazine says are tougher than the Energy Department's and better resemble how consumers use refrigerators, found five Energy Star models - three from LG and two from Samsung - whose annual energy consumption would likely be far greater than that claimed on their EnergyGuide labels.
For example, "Consumer Reports" found that the Samsung RF267ABRS, a refrigerator with French doors and through-the-door ice and water dispensers, used 890-kilowatt-hours per year - a number higher than the 540 kWh annual consumption claimed under the less rigorous Energy Star Program.
There was an even larger difference between company claims and Consumer Reports' more-demanding test measurements for the LG LMX25981ST French-door fridge. LG claims it uses 547 kWh per year, but Consumer Reports' tests found that real-life energy use would be more than double.
In the case of the LG models, the Energy Star protocol allows for the ice maker to be turned off during testing, resulting in the ice melting. Consumer Reports believes that consumers would not turn off the icemaker, and that appears to be a primary reason for the discrepancy between the Energy Star and Consumer Reports' test results.
According to the EPA, about 25 percent of products in a category should qualify for Energy Star. But until recently, for example, 92 percent of all dishwashers qualified. Under a tighter standard, about 50 percent now qualify. A high number of residential-use oil-fired boilers, 67 percent, and dehumidifiers, 60 percent, also qualify for the program, the report states.
In a statement Tuesday, the EPA calls the "Consumer Reports" article "misleading."
The agency says the magazine "confuses" three different programs run by the federal government that address energy use and energy efficiency of energy-using products - the minimum standards program operated by the Energy Department, the EnergyGuide label overseen by the Federal Trade Commission, and the Energy Star labeling program.
"The Consumer Reports article misses the basic point of the Energy Star program," says the EPA. "Energy Star is designed to help consumers find energy-efficient products that will cost-effectively help save them money and help them protect the environment."
"Last year alone, the program prevented 40 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions while saving Americans more than $16 billion on their utility bills," the federal agency said.
"Consumer Reports" criticizes the three year time period it usually takes the Department of Energy to publish new rules - a period that includes comments from manufacturers, organizations such as Consumers Union, and others. It takes another three years for the updated standards to take effect.
"Input into the rule-making process by those who have a vested interest in easy-to-meet standards, such as manufacturers, can also dilute those standards," the report states.
Consumers Union, the organization that publishes the "Consumer Reports" magazine, recommends more frequent reviews of testing procedures and standards and suggests that testing procedures be brought in line with new technologies. The government should also require independent verification of test results, the report recommends.
Federal officials need to better police companies and enforce standards with spot checks of Energy Star-qualified products, says the Consumers Union, and the report suggests that the program should consider a graded qualifying system that uses letters.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.