Power Electronics

Industry Challenges Energy-Efficiency Regulations

It's one thing to encourage power-supply manufacturers and OEMs to observe voluntary standards for energy efficiency in the power supplies they design and use. But it's an entirely different matter to make those standards mandatory. The California Energy Commission (CEC) has been discovering just how much harder it is to lay down the law when it comes to power-supply efficiency.

The CEC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have adopted similar standards governing the efficiency of external power supplies carrying ratings up to 250 W. These standards specify minimum levels of active-mode efficiency and maximum levels of no-load power consumption. However, while the EPA makes its standards voluntary for those seeking the Energy Star rating, the CEC makes these same standards mandatory for OEMs that want to sell their goods in California.

On January 30, the CEC held a workshop in which power-supply vendors and OEMs expressed their concerns about the CEC requirements and the looming July 1, 2006, deadline for the CEC's Tier I standards. At that meeting, some OEMs cried foul claiming they didn't know about the CEC requirements soon enough to change over to CEC-compliant power supplies.

The question of whether the industry has had enough time to change over to CEC (or Energy Star)-compliant power supplies is open to debate. On the one hand, the CEC has been developing its requirements in collaboration with the EPA and industry associations for the last two years. John Wilson, a CEC advisor, points out, “The whole industry needs to realize that the rulemaking process started in 2004.”

The CEC formally adopted its standards and deadlines in December 2004 and that news was immediately publicized — at least within the power electronics community. But judging by comments made at the workshop and those I've heard from power-supply vendors, it's not clear that the CEC's energy-efficiency regulations were sufficiently publicized within the electronics industry at large.

Beyond these issues, workshop participants expressed concerns about the difficulty of meeting CEC requirements for no-load power consumption at 230 Vac and the challenge of achieving mandated efficiency in medical power supplies and other applications such as supplies with low voltage and high power. For more on these concerns, see the workshop minutes at www.energy.ca.gov/appliances/documents/index.html.

As a result of the workshop, the CEC has proposed that its deadlines for implementing external power-supply efficiency standards be delayed six months. The new deadlines being proposed are Jan. 1, 2007, for Tier I requirements and July 1, 2008, for Tier II. Meanwhile, medical power supplies needing FDA certification are now exempt from these requirements. In addition, power supplies will not need to meet the no-load power limit at 230 Vac input.

The CEC published these changes on March 1, which marks the beginning of a required 45-day review period during which time any interested parties may comment. However, don't expect further changes to the regulations as additional revisions would necessitate further review periods, making it impossible to stop the Tier I standards from going into effect on July 1, 2006.

The CEC's experience in mandating power-supply efficiency raises so many issues. For example, what should be the role of power-supply vendors in supporting implementation of the standards? Are they somehow obliged to have compliant adapters ready in time for their customers to meet the CEC's deadlines? A quick survey of adapter vendors reveals that most vendors have limited CEC-compliant product offerings today.

Another question is whether power-supply vendors are obliged to inform their customers about the CEC requirements. One adapter vendor I spoke with claimed that none of the power-supply vendors are going to their existing customers and telling them they need to meet the CEC/Energy Star specification. That's because doing so opens the door for the customer to evaluate new adapters from other vendors as they are forced to requalify their products. If others in the power-supply industry share this view, then achieving compliance with the CEC's standards will be all the more difficult.

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