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Anne Arquit Niederberger12/9/16 12:00 AM2 min read

Starting the day efficiently will be largely up to consumers

Shower, hair, tea and toast — that’s many people’s morning routine. Although the energy consumed by each hair dryer, electric kettle and toaster may be small, these mass market products are sold in the millions to billions and the energy they use adds up in the aggregate.

The European Commission published its Winter Package of energy measures for the period up to 2030, including a binding EU-wide target of 30% for energy efficiency by 2030, emphasizing the EU’s commitment to put energy efficiency first.

After a long delay, updated Ecodesign policies — which set mandatory energy efficiency performance levels — were also adopted. The Ecodesign Work Plan for 2016–2019 includes preparatory studies to consider minimum standards and labels on new product categories, including electric kettles, but not hair dryers or toasters, which had also been under consideration. The reasons? There is both a political and practical angle.

Politically, the Commission was clearly concerned about negative publicity over intrusiveness into people’s lives. Perhaps understandably. Ecodesign made it into the headlines (“The British way of life is under fresh threat from the EU as it targets the nation’s kettles, toasters and even lawnmowers”) and was used as a pro-Brexit argument in the UK. A cabinet-level document noted that the EU has been “regularly accused of regulatory over-reach and intrusiveness in people’s daily lives and behavioural choices, when banning products from the market and limiting consumer choice.”

The silver lining is that the issue of energy efficiency standards and labels is being discussed publicly and has been elevated by EU Commission President Juncker to cabinet-level, which may create more political ownership of the whole process going forward. This is important for strengthening existing requirements as well as bringing additional products into the scheme.

Regardless of politics and media hype, policymakers are justified in focusing on regulating products with the greatest energy savings potential, not the least because the effectiveness of standards is tied to the ability to enforce them, and the current system in Europe leaves room for improvement. The European Commission estimated that 10% to 25% of products on the market do not comply with ecodesign and energy labelling requirements.

It’s also risky for policymakers to draw conclusions about the consumer benefit of personal care or small kitchen devices, because individuals are not “average”. Whereas refrigerators are plugged in and always “on”, usage patterns for devices like hair dryers and toasters can vary widely. This means that what might be a good investment for one household might not pencil out for another.

It is the consumer who will ultimately have to make such choices.

Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen underscored this in his statement on the new approach to Ecodesign: “We need to empower consumers and that means that we have to make it possible for consumers to make conscious choices. If they want to save money, energy and nature it should be possible…” But Ecodesign and energy labelling will not be enough.

For one thing, not all consumer products will be covered. And the Ecodesign requirements only eliminate the least efficient products from the market, still leaving consumers with a wide array of products to choose from.

Enervee is here to help. We’re bringing product efficiency marketplaces like the E.ON Marketplace in the UK online to help shoppers make the right choice the simple choice.