Energy labelling: Balancing ambition and realism

Written by Dario Tamburrano on 8 December 2016 in Opinion
Opinion

Current labelling rules are failing to properly inform citizens, writes Dario Tamburrano.

Dario Tamburrano speaking at parliament

Dario Tamburrano | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual


If you're buying a fridge and the label says 'A+', you might think it's a very energy efficient appliance. That would be a mistake. In reality - and totally legally - it is the least efficient product available.

This situation is in addition to the news about barely legal practices that have recently seriously compromised the faith that European citizens have in the information available when they are choosing a car, television or vacuum cleaner, to name but a few of the products that we often buy.

Emissions falsified using technology specifically created to bypass European norms, or products tested in environmental conditions that in no way reflect the way they are actually used by people in the real world - are just two practices that the EU needs to control, prevent and also sanction. Unfortunately, the responses that we have seen so far have not lived up to my expectations.


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As rapporteur for a proposal that is closely connected to the value, precision and accuracy of the information given to citizens when buying products for everyday use, I have given a lot of time and thought to these issues.

The European Parliament, one of the two co-legislators, is pushing hard for the European Commission and supervisory authorities to adopt stricter norms and procedures to protect citizens, whose interests should always come first.

Since it was introduced, the label has given citizens a better understanding of the products they buy. This system, combined with efforts focusing on ecodesign, has resulted in huge savings in terms of energy consumed as well as emissions, with an immediate, visible impact on monthly bills.

In the last 20 years, the energy efficiency of many different categories of products has improved 10-fold, which means that more and more products are ranked in the higher classifications, thus undermining consumers' perceptions of the products available.

In 2010, the proposed reform was designed to respond to the success of the labelling system and uphold its value in the future, but in fact, it just complicated consumers' lives even more. Classes were added at a higher level than A, marked by extra '+' symbols, delaying the issue of the gradual saturation of the highest classifications to today. A mechanism for adjusting the levels, which we are talking about today, was not introduced.

This means that we have failed to use the past 10 years to 'strengthen' the validity of the labelling, and in 2016, the issue is even harder to resolve. The categories of products that are now labelled are even more varied (from light bulbs to washing machines, via fridges, ovens and boilers), and in the future, they will surely further multiply.

The primary goal that we have set for ourselves is to identify a general rule to eliminate the informational misrepresentations created by the '+' symbols, put the muddle of the labelling system in order, and find some balance between expectations, the need for standardisation and practical and manufacturing considerations, which we cannot overlook.

I have always believed that we must go beyond the label, as the real answer for future improvements to energy efficiency is in the minds of citizens, and in their awareness and their behaviour.

Labels must include a small amount of useful, clearly visible information and data. In the meantime, there must be a further level of more detailed information, and this is where the major, and perhaps only, innovation in this reform comes in: the database.

Above and beyond the fundamental removal of the '+' symbols, a carefully considered database is the real driver for change needed to give citizens control over the Union's energy transition.

Developers of smartphone apps and similar solutions should have already identified a huge range of opportunities. We all know the differences between someone in the United States or Australia who can find out the annual costs of running a washing machine or a boiler in just a few moments.

The databases created in almost all other countries (China, Australia, the US etc.) have helped to develop programmes and calculations that give citizens the tools to make much smarter decisions than Europeans, based on real needs.

The negotiating process with the Council, driven by the Dutch and Slovakian presidencies, has so far proved to be productive and effective, even though at many stages my initial ideas as rapporteur had to give way to compromise, and were ultimately changed.

An agreement is taking shape, but it is not yet possible to say when it will be concluded so as to allow the regulation to come into force as soon as possible.

Innovation is the driving force that should help the transition to a cleaner, more efficient economy and the regulation includes a few small steps in this direction.

I am happy with the provisional agreement on the possibility for the label to highlight if a product could be considered a smart appliance, designed to make homes more interactive, integrated and smart in order to balance out the complex energy needs of households.

Unfortunately ,we will not be able to extend the scope of the supervisory system with regard to the honesty of manufacturers and the information provided on labels.

Many of the proposals for more transparency and publicity, compensation for consumers, sharing of information and frequency of checks that national authorities should carry out are coming up against issues relating to legal questions and legislative opportunities, ending up by collapsing or being significantly weakened.

The supervisory system applied until now needs to become more efficient and fluid. I am sure that transparency is the only guarantee that we have to rebuild the faith of citizens in the European Union: faith that currently runs the risk of being lost.

 

About the author

Dario Tamburrano (EFDD, IT) is Parliament's rapporteur on setting a framework for energy efficiency labelling

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