View from Brussels: New energy labels promise to slash Europe’s power demands

The EU has decided to simplify energy labels for appliances such as fridges and washing machines to try and help consumers make sense of what has become a complex system. It comes none too soon as Europe looks set to miss its energy efficiency targets.

In recent years, buying an energy-efficient kitchen appliance has become a bit of an ordeal as labels designed to help consumers have become more and more complex.

What started out as a simple A to G ranking swelled to include A+, A++ and A+++ benchmarks, with an A+ fridge, for example, actually being a rather inefficient option. The B to E rankings were also largely empty. Critics warned that the label risked becoming a joke, ultimately useless.

In mid-March, the European Commission finally decided enough was enough and declared that a stripped-down version of the scale would be the best option for everyone.

Under the new rules, the top A class will be left empty at the beginning of the new label’s implementation, in the hope that it will convince companies to put their thinking caps on and innovate even-more efficient products.

Prospective buyers will also be able to scan a QR code on the label to get more information about the product; details about water consumption and even noise emission levels will be readily available.

The new label will come into force in March 2021, allowing manufacturers time to adapt to the change. Members of the European Parliament and national representatives still have two months in which to object, but it has already been hailed as a popular decision.

Estimates by consumer organisations show that eco-labels have huge untapped potential to save Europe billions in energy costs, simply by reducing energy consumption.

By 2030, the labels could translate into savings of €20 billion per year by cutting the EU’s energy demand by 5 per cent. In a world where every little helps, tweaking labels is starting to look like a genius move.

Socialist MEP Kathleen Van Brempt summed it up in terms that non-energy wonks can get interested in, often overlooked in the debate, by pointing out that the power savings after 2030 would be the same as the energy produced by 16 nuclear power plants.

Industry leaders have also welcomed the Commission’s changes, but cautiously suggested that the EU executive will have to make sure all the new information is communicated correctly.

Paolo Falcioni, head of Europe’s appliance association, said that the existing label has been doing its job for nearly three decades and warned that “a project meant to better inform consumers must not end up confusing them”.

The potential energy savings offered up by the labels will be relief for EU officials, given that it looks more than likely that the bloc will miss its 2020 energy efficiency target.

With just over half a year to go to hit a 20 per cent cuts goal, compared with projected energy use for the end of the decade, the Commission is expected to announce on Wednesday (3 April 2019) that the EU as a whole will fall short.

Cutting energy use by 20 per cent is the equivalent of switching off 400 power stations. Everything from building renovation to more efficient toasters has contributed towards trying to reach the target.

However, energy experts have warned that - for the previous 12 months - household consumption and spikes in energy use for heating and cooling have been the writing on the wall for the 2020 target. Small gains across the board have gradually added up, but simply cannot hold back the tide.

If the EU does miss the target as expected, it will already be on the back foot as efforts begin to try and hit a 32.5 per cent target for 2030. That target might even have to be revised upwards in the mid 2020s if overall climate targets are ratcheted up.

As one Commission official, who preferred to remain anonymous, explained, “The savings have to come from somewhere. If we want to do better on climate change, we have to do better on energy efficiency, not just roll out more electric cars and use less coal.”

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