Energy efficient lights and appliances

In March 2010, our EcoPinion survey report focused on the Energy Star program for consumer appliances. One recommendation related to a need for different levels of efficiency, so that consumer could select exceptionally efficient appliances if they suited their needs. In October 2010, the the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposal to pilot a new Energy Star program to identify and advance highly-efficient products. This “top tier” approach would accelerate adoption of advanced products in the marketplace. In a May 5, 2011 letter, EPA explained the pilot program and changes as a result of extensive stakeholder comments on the draft criteria.

EPA’s pilot program is completely consistent with the EcoPinion recommendations with respect to evolution of the Energy Star brand. Consumer Reports explains the changes in a May 19, 2011 article “Energy Star shines a light on its ‘most efficient’ superstars.

It is certainly a good thing if a consumer–armed with better information and a rating system–makes a choice to purchase a more efficient device today in order to lower energy costs tomorrow. It is always a good thing when a consumer exercises informed choices. But are we moving fast enough?

In March 2011, EcoPinion No. 10 focused on consumer attitudes regarding efficient lights. Consumers are more ready that we expected to adopt new LED lights in their homes. They also want government leadership. Consumers want good information from a trusted source.

Last September, I asked whether the flows of energy in the US economy told even one-half the picture. Discouraging as they seem, I stated that the diagrams were overly optimistic in their portrayal of energy waste.

Our utilization of the energy commodity is tremendously inefficient.  For example, when you buy one unit — a kilowatt-hour – of so-called ”usable electricity,” it may power a light bulb which converts only 20% of the electrical energy into visible light! (I assume a new, efficient light.) The other 80% of the energy labeled as “usable electricity” becomes heat.  Did you intend to “use” 80% of the electric commodity as heat? (Do you intentionally heat your home with lights?) Or is that a measure of waste not shown in the diagrams above?  It sure is.

If people better understood how inefficient they are, they might demand better information and leadership from a trusted source. Until then, anyone can claim “efficiency,” “protecting the environment,” or “green.” These terms are overused. Without a tiered Energy Star program, consumers cannot easily compare claims and then act as they prefer. Today, very reasonable people make inefficient purchases because the market does not make good information available at a reasonable cost.

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