It was inevitable after the revelations about Volkswagen tampering with fuel economy tests for its diesel vehicles, that we would be examining other technologies. Only this week the vacuum cleaner manufacturer Dyson has accused some of its competitors of similar practices. Jonathan Leake, Environment Editor of Britain’s Sunday Times writes a good account of the situation.
Oven energy efficiency ratings are overcooked
Dishwashers, washing machines, ovens and other domestic appliances consume far more energy than claimed by their manufacturers, an investigation by The Sunday Times has revealed.
In the same way that claims by the motor industry about vehicles’ fuel consumption and emissions have been shown to be misleading, so the energy efficiency claims of domestic appliance firms are flouting rules such as the EU’s Ecodesign and energy labelling directives.
These oblige manufacturers to build efficient appliances and tell consumers what it will cost to run them.
However, enforcement agencies across Europe have issued warnings and fines to leading companies after discovering that many of their products break the rules. In Britain, an investigation into ovens by the National Measurement and Regulation office (NMRo) found that a quarter of the 1.5m sold annually were misleading customers over how much energy they used.
One appliance made by Smeg, an Italian firm, was found to use 18% more energy than declared, meaning higher bills and greater environmental damage. The company was told to check its entire range and make a €40,000 donation to green charities. “The cost of goods [ovens] affected is in the region of €150m and the [energy] cost to consumers is €700,000,” a report by the NMRO said.
In another case in Britain, Miele, a German company, has been ordered to pay compensation to hundreds of customers who bought a freezer with an energy rating of A++ but which consumed 12 % more energy than this implied. Miele was told to contact all those who had bought the freezer, pay them €50 to cover the extra energy costs and make a donation to the Woodland Trust.
Zanussi had to pay €15,000 to charity for a freezer that consumed 14% more energy than declared. The fine did not have to compensate customers. A similar problem with a Zanussi tumble dryer in 2013 resulted in a separate €10,000 charge, while Danish authorities ordered the company to halt sales of two dishwasher models that were less energy efficient than stated.
Huw Jones, an enforcement director with the NMRO, said his staff had tested 93 products from a range of manufacturers in the year to March, of which 19 had broken energy rules. While the reason for the overstating of energy efficiency is unclear, some critics suspect that “defeat devices”, like the software used by VW to cut emissions when its vehicles were being tested, may be employed by some companies.
Jones said the NMRO had found no such evidence of such devices in the UK. However, Samsung came under suspicion earlier this month after an EU-funded research group, ComplianTV, recorded lower energy consumption rates for the company’s televisions in tests than in living rooms. Samsung said the test result was down to energy-saving software that operates in all conditions.
In 2010, LG Electronics agreed to compensate thousands of Australian customers after two of its fridges were found to contain an illegal device that activated an energy-saving mode under test conditions. Asked if any current models had such software, the company said: “LG UK is unaware of any devices or settings in LG products designed to generate false readings in compliance tests.”
However, trade bodies believe defeat devices may be an issue. Tristan Macdonald, of the European Committee of Domestic Equipment Manufacturers, said: “In 2008 . . . we said legislation should indicate that designing appliances with features to detect if the appliances are exposed to an energy test, and to switch off certain functions to get a better result, should not be allowed. ”
Jeremy Wates, of the European Environmental Bureau, said: “The VW scandal shows what happens when . . . corporations get too much leeway to regulate themselves.”
Douglas Herbison, chief executive of the Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Appliances, said: “Technology evolves so rapidly that, on the millions of models of white goods produced, there may be one or two instances where testing procedures have trouble keeping up. But this is very different to the deliberate inclusion of components designed to mislead.”