Summary: new EU energy efficiency rules under the Eco-Design Directive agreed by elected Ministers and MEPs will not reduce the performance of household appliances, as some media have claimed. Indeed, earlier measures have led to appliances performing much better. The changes will save consumers money and give them better information, contribute to tackling climate change and help reduce dependence on imported energy. Industry, consumers and the UK government support the latest changes. From 1 January 2015 they will improve consumer information, particularly online, on how much household appliances cost to run, reduce energy waste by coffee machines and ensure that network devices like routers and smart TVs have an automatic standby mode. Details here. New minimum energy efficiency standards for gas and electric domestic ovens and cookers and for range hoods are to be phased in over four years from February 2015.
“Half-baked – EU cooker diktat is ‘threat’ to roasts”, the Sun on Sunday served up on 4 January, seasoning with “meddling EU chiefs are targeting the Sunday roast in their latest bid to make us save energy.”
“Officials insist this is aimed at cutting waste and improving value for money”, the story continues, quite correctly on this point.
“Critics fear it will take longer to heat up the Sunday roast”, says the paper, without identifying the “critics” concerned. Some people do disagree with the changes, of course, though most industry, consumer and green groups agree that the changes are good news.
Not content with this, an editorial (p16) alleges “we will no longer be able to choose how we oven-cook roasts,” as if the EU might outlaw basting or stuffing.
The Sun on Sunday used a quote from the EC and is always careful to do so. But not the one where we said: “Ovens will still heat to the same temperatures just as fast but less energy and money will be wasted. It is false and illogical to suggest that it will ‘take longer to cook Sunday lunch’.”
In the same edition of the Sun on Sunday, another article pointed out that “paying energy bills is now the top concern of the average family – ahead of food and the mortgage.”
But it seems that measures from “Brussels” to help cut those bills must be a “diktat” and conceal a threat to the British way of life or at least Sunday eating habits.
Despite the fact that the changes are backed by the vast majority of stakeholders.
The Sun’s “half-baked” article was reheated by the Mail Online, but with a humour-free headline: “Now Brussels comes for the Sunday roast“.
The Express went further over the top with an almost self-parodying: “EU farce: Now Brussels bureaucrats kill off Sunday roast with new green rules for ovens.” “Jayne Adye of cross-party group Get Britain Out, a Cordon Bleu chef “, is quoted asserting that “housewives will need to change recipes and all our cook books will be useless”.
One serious flaw in her statement is that many cookers on the market already comply with the new rules and have not caused an epidemic of “soggy bottoms” or involuntarily pink roast beef.
What is more, input from experts on oven technology was crucial in designing the new measures, so that performance will, if anything, improve, just as it has done in the past for most other categories of product where new energy efficiency rules have been introduced.
The Express puts the icing on its perfectly cooked cake of hysteria by predicting “a shopping frenzy as people rush to snap up high-powered cookers before they run out”. Any such “frenzy” would likely be the result of the same inaccurate media reporting predicting the frenzy in the first place, given that nothing will prevent new cookers offering the high performance people want.
In that context, the Daily Mail states proudly that in September 2014 the EU banned “powerful vacuum cleaners” but that the newspaper “helped people beat the ban” by offering such vacuums for direct sale. In fact, despite misrepresentation by some media in the UK and elsewhere, the new EU standards – again backed by the UK and the vast majority of stakeholders – did not ban “powerful” vacuum cleaners. They introduced higher performance standards, including but not only for energy efficiency. Suction power is not a function of wattage or energy used and the energy guzzling cleaners that have been removed from the market were in most cases not those offering the most “real” power. Details here.
Another part of the energy saving package requires coffee machines to switch to standby after a certain time (depending on the machine). The Daily Mail alleged that “critics” (again unidentified) were saying that this “will leave people with cold coffee”. The Telegraph, meanwhile, in a generally balanced piece, could not resist the headline “Tepid coffee anyone?”
“No, hot coffee for everyone who wants it, just as before” is the answer to that question.
Most consumers will not notice the new coffee machine specifications, either because insulated jugs keep coffee warm or because by the time the automatic standby kicks in, the coffee will have become undrinkably bitter. Coffee will still be just as hot, but less energy will be wasted. And in case anyone likes their coffee stale but piping hot, manufacturers can still offer machines with an option to override the switch to standby. More details here in our response to stories some months ago.
Some of the above articles quote various people opposing the new measures: obviously they are quite right to include voices on all sides. But the arguments in turn deserve scrutiny.
Should this really just be “a matter for the industry, the market and, perhaps, national legislation rather than yet more interference from Brussels?” The market alone has not delivered the energy efficiency gains all EU leaders, including the UK Prime Minister, agree are needed. Industry welcomes such measures as a boost to innovation and a guarantee of a level-playing field. And other jurisdictions including Brazil, China, Korea, Russia and South Africa have introduced labelling and/or energy efficiency measures inspired by the EU model.
Different national legislation across 28 EU Member States would be a big burden on manufacturers and put up the price of all household appliances. The point of the single market is to avoid such situations.
Important to stress again that these decisions are not taken by “unelected bureaucrats” somehow “interfering from Brussels”: the Commission’s proposal for the Eco-Design Directive was amended and agreed by large majorities of elected national Ministers, including the UK’s, and by elected MEPs. And while rules on specific appliances are set out by a decision of the Commission – made up of politicians nominated by elected national governments – they can be rejected by either the European Parliament or a majority of the Member States.
Do consumers have an inalienable right to choose energy guzzling appliances – and by extension manufacturers to produce them – if they so wish? This argument assumes that rules ensuring better value for money mean reducing choice of functionality – they do not. It also assumes consumers have the time and expertise to analyse in detail the whole range on the market – they do not. It assumes that significant number genuinely prize the “right” to buy something inefficient above saving money – there is no evidence for that. It disregards the fact that most consumer groups welcome the EU measures. It assumes that manufacturers do not accept that they need to improve energy efficiency and that sometimes legislation helps – most do accept both those things. Last but not least it implies by extension that individuals and businesses have a right to waste unlimited amounts of a scarce resource – in this case energy – even if that is to the detriment of wider society.
Finally, Daniel Hannan asserts in The Sun that “if we banned all household appliances in Europe it would only cut carbon emissions by 0.5%”. In fact in the UK, for example, energy use by household appliances including cookers represents roughly 15% of household energy consumption (the rest is mostly heating and lighting, on which there are also agreed EU measures) or about 5% of all energy use in the economy. Put another way, the Eco-design Directive is expected overall to cut emissions by close to 500 million tonnes a year representing 10% of the overall greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. This is almost as much the total emissions produced by all cars in the EU, or those of some 25 million households.
An analysis of government statistics by BBC News shows that the average person in the UK is using – and paying for – 10% less electricity than five years ago, partly because “EU standards on household appliances have allowed people to do the same tasks with less energy.”