The European Commission has succumbed to heavy lobbying from the electric heating industry and is set to approve an energy labelling scheme that misrepresents its appliances' true efficiency performance, according to environmental and consumers groups.
The Energy Labelling Directive, updated in 2010, allows the European Commission to set technical requirements, including energy classes, for household appliances such as fridges, washing machines and ovens.
Since the adoption of the energy label in the mid-1990s, the energy-efficiency classification scheme (A to G) has proved effective at steering consumption towards more environmentally friendly household goods.The Commission thus proposed to extend its scope beyond household appliances as part of a Strategic Energy Review in November 2008 (EurActiv 14/11/08).
However, as most products today are in the 'A' class, the EU executive proposed a new scale that would "go beyond A", triggering the development of more efficient products by stimulating competition. On 2 April 2009, member state representatives agreed a new layout with added A-classes, such as A-20%, would indicate how much less energy the product consumes than a traditional 'A class' product (EurActiv 02/04/09). In 2010, the European Commission adopted the directive that set the "beyond A" labelling system.
Around 20 million gas and electric heaters are sold in Europe each year and from 2016, the Commission wanted them to display colour-coded energy performance labels, which have bars ranging from a green ‘A’ to a red ‘G’ class.
But electric heater manufacturers – which make up over 80% of the market - fought against any direct comparison with gas and other heaters, most of which are more than twice as efficient.
The European Environmental Bureau, a green pressure group, says that the “Commission buckled under pressure” and changed the Ecodesign Directive proposal, to exempt electric heaters from labeling altogether.
Instead, national experts from EU states are due to vote on a proposal in October for an alternative sticker warning consumers that electric heaters are equivalent to a ‘G’-class energy label. The vote had been due on 24 September but was postponed at the last minute.
EurActiv understands that even the EU's compromise is likely to face stern opposition from countries including Germany, the UK, Spain and the Netherlands and may fall on grounds of the alternative labels’ legal basis, wording, and extra costs involved in the legislative change.
“Electric heaters are often cheaper to buy in the shops, but burn a hole in your wallet over time,” said Stamatis Sivitos, from the Coolproducts campaign. “It looks like business interests have defeated this opportunity to steer consumers towards better products.”
Electric heaters can consume up to 180 terawatt hours of electricity per year across the 28 EU countries, over a fifth of EU household electricity consumption.
As a result, they can also put national electricity grids under real stress by powering sudden spikes in demand. By comparison, gas has a much smoother supply pattern.
The electric heating industry argues that giving their products a ‘G’ label will not change consumer behaviour, which is motivated by infrastructural convenience and cost considerations.
Environmentalists and consumer groups counter that citizens should be given the information so that they can at least make an informed choice.