Washington - The federal government has begun testing Energy Star-rated major appliances for compliance with the program's efficiency standards, and is developing a new certification procedure that will ultimately apply to all products.
The new measures, along with stricter enforcement, were designed to tighten up a qualification process that largely relies on vendor self-assessment and peer review.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) began compliance tests last week on Energy Star-rated refrigerators, freezers, clothes washers, dishwashers, water heaters and room air conditioners, which account for more than 25 percent of household energy bills. DOE will test approximately 200 basic models at third-party, independent test laboratories over the next few months, the agency said.
The DOE and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which jointly administer the Energy Star program, are also developing an expanded compliance system that will require all products seeking the Energy Star label to be tested in approved labs. The new qualification procedures will also require manufacturers to participate in an ongoing verification testing program that will ensure continued compliance.
The changes follow a two-year-old report by the consumer advocacy publication Consumer Reports, which found that energy consumption in real-life situations differs from the test standards set by DOE. The magazine also revealed that appliance manufacturers conduct their own Energy Star-certification tests with little oversight from DOE, which relied on vendors to monitor competitors' products due to budgetary constraints.
The report prompted a DOE examination of Energy Star claims by LG Electronics, which resulted in modifications to 22 non-compliant French door refrigerator models and compensation to consumers.
The DOE acknowledged the lack of majap oversight in an internal audit that was submitted to Energy Secretary Steven Chu last fall, The New York Times reported, although the EPA said 98 percent of the more than 40,000 Energy Star-rated products on the market are in compliance with the program's standards.
Energy Star labeling was developed to help consumers identify the most energy-efficient products, and has become the basis for a $300 million federal rebate program covering most major appliances.
"Consumers have long trusted the Energy Star brand for products that will save them energy and save them money," said Cathy Zoi, DOE's 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."
EPA and DOE have also stepped up enforcement of Energy Star and federal appliance efficiency standards, and have taken action against 35 manufacturers in the past four months, including LG and Haier. The agencies took steps in December to remove the Energy Star label from 20 LG refrigerators, and in January signed a consent decree with Haier on four freezers that failed to meet Energy Star and appliance-efficiency standards. Haier was fined $150,000 and required to notify consumers and repair any defective units.
The minimum appliance-efficiency standards set baseline efficiency levels for appliances. DOE said the long-delayed standards, which were issued last year after President Obama ordered the agency to clear the logjam, are expected to save consumers between $250 billion and $300 billion over the next 30 years.
Industry reaction to the new measures was positive. "We will fully support the DOE and EPA's efforts to make the Energy Star testing and certification process as efficient and transparent as possible," said John Farley, senior brand and environmental marketing manager for Bosch home appliances. "The end result will be a better -ducated customer who will be empowered to make purchasing decisions that are both financially and environmentally responsible."
Adam Thomas, appliance merchandising senior VP for the Nationwide Marketing Group, acknowledged, "Manufacturers regulated each other, based on the DOE standard, and some things were opened to interpretation."
The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), the industry trade group, plans to launch a voluntary program midyear that will verify the energy ratings of refrigerators and freezers through independent third-party labs. According to AHAM president Joe McGuire, "The industry's interest is to strengthen confidence among the public and government in refrigerators and freezer energy claims through random third-party verification tests."
LG has similarly enlisted UL Environment, a subsidiary of Underwriters Laboratories, to evaluate its water- and energy-consumption claims for majap and CE products under the lab's Environmental Claims Validation program.