Energy-efficient appliances save money on utility bills. An increasing number of consumers who want to get the most bang for their energy buck look for the Energy Star label. Energy Star identifies products that help protect the environment by using energy more efficiently. Buyers now search for the Energy Star label on products ranging from light bulbs to new homes. Many states support utility incentive programs promoting conservation via Energy Star-rated appliances. More than a billion Energy Star-qualified products have sold in the United States since the program began in 1992.
The Energy Star market is large. About 56% of consumers nationwide recognize the Star logo. Of those, 93% say they look for Energy Star qualified products. And the number of consumers who recognize the Energy Star label is growing. The label is influential in expanding the market for efficient products. Indications are that consumers given a choice between similar appliances commonly pick the one with an Energy Star rating.
The Energy Star program is jointly administered by the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with voluntary participation by manufacturers and retailers. Each agency oversees its own responsibilities within the Energy Star program. DOE manages criteria setting and promotion for the residential sector concentrating on appliances, windows, and compact fluorescent lights. EPA does the same for electronic goods, commercial equipment, buildings, and new homes.
Only Energy Star partners may use the Energy Star label on qualified products and advertising. Appliances awarded the Star logo typically fall within the top 25% efficiency rating for the industry. Buildings that meet high levels of energy efficiency and performance also get Energy Star approval.
The creation and revision of Energy Star specifications is an ongoing process. DOE considers several criteria when determining whether to develop or modify specifications. Perhaps most obviously, DOE tries to decide if a new specification will save more energy nationally. There also has to be a way to measure and verify energy consumption. And energy efficiency can't come at the expense of product performance.
DOE develops Energy Star specifications through a systematic process that relies on rigorous marketing, engineering, and pollution analyses. Input from industry stakeholders plays a vital role in developing standards. Periodic reviews evaluate how relevant a specification is to current market conditions. DOE makes sure the resulting specifications differentiate the most efficient products based on performance. At the same time, the goal is to maintain a good selection of cost-effective models for buyers. This means Energy Star-compliant models at the low-end as well as premium models with all the bells and whistles.
The Energy Star label influences energy-conscious buyers. Because it is a buying influence, it gives manufacturers incentive to produce qualified appliances. But Energy Star levels aren't static. When Energy Star products reach a specific level of market penetration, program managers at DOE begin raising the bar for Energy Star compliance to keep the label distinct.
When standards change, appliances are not "grandfathered in." Each appliance stands or falls on the merits of its energy efficiency. Appliances that perform well enough to meet the new standards keep their label. Those that don't either get redesigned for compliance or forfeit their Energy Star designation.
Upgraded criteria do not take effect overnight. Manufacturers typically have a year or more to work on the next generation of Energy Star appliances before the new standards are put into place.
For example, the specifications for clothes washers and dishwashers are currently undergoing revision. Clothes washers serve as a good model for how specifications are developed and then changed.
Residential clothes washers entered the Energy Star program in 1997. By the end of 2004, market penetration for the Energy Star-compliant washers reached 27.23% — one in four buyers now purchase an Energy Star-labeled clothes washer. DOE's goal for each product is only 20% market penetration. Once 20% of a product carries the Energy Star label, DOE thinks about making the criteria more stringent. When clothes washers surpassed that level in 2004, DOE began reevaluating the criteria. The first step was to lay out a timetable for the revision process and identify the date new specifications would take effect.
The timetable lists Jan. 1, 2007, as the date Federal standards will change. DOE notifies all interested parties about launching the revision process. The revision process involves analyzing market conditions, identifying requirements for revision, and a call for comments. Manufacturers then offer their perspective at public meetings.
Last August DOE held a stakeholder meeting with comments due by September. Early 2005 saw the creation and circulation of an initial review draft based in part on feedback from manufacturers. The review process takes about a year, during which DOE circulates prospective criteria that are debated and revised. The Energy Star Web site hosts the minutes, comments, and presentations from these meetings. The entire process is collaborative and all sides weigh in with opinions.
Manufacturer feedback is crucial to this process. After all, the companies that build the machines know them best: They know what's technically possible, where there's an opportunity for a few percentage points in efficiency, and what the American public is most interested in buying. Feedback on the clothes washer process is highly informative and is also posted for viewing on the Energy Star Web site under "Clothes Washer Criteria."
Whirlpool is a corporate partner and stakeholder that collaborates to help Energy Star set criteria that are realistic and achievable. Says J.B. Hoyt, director of Government Relations for Whirlpool, "We try to make sure we have time to react. It's not only development and design. We also need time to produce the new machines in quantity. While the program is voluntary, marketplace competition means compliance is essential; if one manufacturer participates, we all have to. But we all want to participate because the consumer benefits. The challenge is in getting enough lead time for our engineers to turn things around."
From time to time DOE determines there's a need for new or additional standards to supplement the existing ones. For example, Energy Star will incorporate water-efficiency measurements for the first time in its new standards for clothes washers.
The first step toward obtaining an Energy Star label is to become a partner. The Energy Star Web site outlines the steps for joining. Partnership applications and product specifications are there and the site also lists how to submit products for consideration under partner resources. A link to the identity guidelines covers proper use of the logo, certification mark, and promotional marks.
One may ask why such measures are important. The combination of progressive research, appliance standards, and a program like Energy Star yields powerful results. For example, in 1977 the average home refrigerator had 17 ft 3 of interior space and consumed about 3% of the total energy in the U.S. One refrigerator used approximately 1,600 kW-hr over its lifetime to provide only basic cooling and freezing. The average 2005 home refrigerator now has 20 ft 3 of interior space and sports additional features like ice makers and hot and cold water dispensers. High-end models may even have a TV monitor.
A refrigerator built to today's industry standards will use only about 540 kW-hr or one-third the energy of a model built over 25 years ago. Though the number of households with refrigerators rose by millions in 28 years, our total use of energy for home refrigeration has declined to just over 1% of our nation's energy consumption.
As of 2002, Energy Star-qualified refrigerators saved 7.1 trillion Btus of energy annually, compared to units without this distinction. Since 1998 these units saved owners $500 million in utility bills. That averages out to $150 per homeowner over the life of the unit. And these savings are over and above the savings solely from higher industry standards.
In short, we use far less energy today because energy efficiency became a priority for both government and industry. Of course, Energy Star alone does not account for all the savings. It is the hard work of designers, engineers, manufacturers, and retailers who collaborate with Energy Star who deliver these benefits to the American public.