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Sustainable Engineering: Brouhaha Brewing Over Energy Star Ratings

Dec. 8, 2008
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program was a source of controversy recently because of questions about measurement practices and exemptions to its rules.

The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), told the EPA that new Energy Star Telephony “No-Load” rules shouldn’t apply to telephony products such as cordless telephones and answering machines. Under the rules, the units could draw no more than 0.5 W when in standby or “No- Load” mode. Most telephony products use external power supplies (EPS) typically rated between 4 to 7 W. Thus, many of them will not meet the No-Load requirements.

DDP Engineered LED Solutions, (800) 421-6815,
Idec Corp., (800) 262-4332,
Institue of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington, D.C.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group,
Telecommunications Industry Association,

TIA claims that cordless telephones, answering systems, and combination units are never in standby/No-Load mode because they continuously monitor telephone networks for incoming telephone calls and/or monitor radio links to cordless handsets. So TIA argues that EPS No-Load requirements shouldn’t apply to these devices.

Critics, however, point out that ordinary cell phones must continuously manage the same kind of monitoring and have no problem drawing much less than a half watt under these circumstances.

But even appliances carrying the Energy Star label may not live up to the efficiency standards that designation implies. So says the publication Consumer Reports which tested a number of Energy Star appliances that turned out to have understated their power dissipation. Specifically, Consumer Reports found that one Samsung refrigerator equipped with French doors and through-the-door ice and water dispensers used 890 kW-hr annually, higher than the 540 kW-hr annual consumption the manufacturer claimed under the Energy Star Program. Another French-door fridge from LG claims to use 547 kW-hr per year, but in Consumer Reports tests consumed more than double that amount, apparently because the Energy Star protocol allows the ice maker to be turned off during testing, resulting in the ice melting. Consumer Reports believes this condition is unrealistic.

Consumer Reports says part of the problem is that it usually takes the DOE three years to publish new rules and another three years for the updated standards to take effect. And manufacturers can have input into the rule-making process and thus tilt rules toward easyto- meet standards, the magazine says. The other problem is that companies can self-certify their products as complying with the standards. The DOE does not test products for compliance with Energy Star.

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