Peddling energy efficiency lies

Posted on March 28th, 2014 by Rob Marshall

Energy_label_2010GEM receives quite a few technical enquiries each month, from owners of relatively new cars that want to know why their vehicles appear to be unable to match their official combined miles per gallon figures – in some cases, a new car is less economical, in real life use, than the previous model. The only real answer is that the figures are intended to be a guide, for comparison use only. The fault lies with the European testing procedure, which is performed independently from the carmaker, although it does not help that the figures are quoted continually by automotive marketing and promotions literature, followed on by salesmen, which make the public believe that the figures are a guarantee. We have also heard of car companies optimising their cars for the laboratory test, to create an artificially high figure, while not taking into account that the Official Combined fuel consumption figure is going to be very difficult to match in real life.

However, it seems as though making out that new products use less energy than they do in reality is not a situation that is unique to the motor industry. The Energy Saving Trust has announced that one in five household products do not live up to their energy efficiency claims and The Telegraph newspaper has commented that millions of customers are being duped as a result, because more energy efficient appliances tend to be more expensive to buy.

Worryingly, Which? has identified significant holes in the European energy use tests for white goods, which leaves them vulnerable to manipulation. For example, the procedure for evaluating washing machine energy usage is conducted on the 40 and 60 degree Celsius cotton cycles. Interestingly, there is no requirement for the machine to heat the water to the temperature displayed on the panel, which explains why a Hoover-branded machine reached only 43 degrees Celsius, on its 60 Degree Cycle, thus appearing to be more energy efficient than competing machines. In its tests, Which? discovered that only eight out of twelve machines reached the stipulated temperature, because manufacturers could take advantage of the relaxed nature of the EU energy tests, without recourse.

Commenting on its findings, Which? Stated:

“As the guidelines are currently so relaxed, we think that the energy label is not transparent and fair… We shall be meeting with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which oversees energy labelling in the UK, to present our evidence.”

It appears that energy efficiency tests for both cars and white goods need overhauling. Clearly, the public is crying out that many of these tests are not fit for purpose but will it make any difference?