The European Commission will revamp its energy labelling system for refrigerators and televisions, ditch confusing grades that range from A+++ to G, and return to a clear A-G scale.
Documents obtained by EURACTIV showed that the red to green colour scheme will be kept and that grades would be rescaled every decade.
The Commission plans to launch the revised Energy Labelling Directive on 15 July. As well as fridges and TVs, 10 other goods, mostly white goods such as dishwashers, are covered.
The original grades were launched to boost energy efficiency and stimulate competition and development of more environmentally friendly products. But most products today fit into the green A class, which lead to the creation of A+. A++ and A+++ rankings in 2010.
Under the new rules, any new scale will be set so that no products would fall into the A or B grade when the label is introduced. That should mean the majority of products would only be in that category at least 10 years later.
The revised directive must be debated by the European Parliament and Council of Ministers, which must approve an identical bill, before it becomes EU law.
Consumer and environmental organisations said the “pluses” were misleading and confusing. There was evidence, they said, that customers were less likely to pay more for an A++ product, compared to an A+, than from a B to an A.
Energy and Climate Action Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete has hinted that the labels would be reviewed to reflect advances in energy efficiency technology and to make them clearer.
The working documents, which are subject to change, confirm that. Labels awarded after the date the regulation comes into force will be rated A to G. Labels introduced before will be reviewed within five years of the date.
During the transition, suppliers should provide both existing and rescaled labels to dealers, the draft said, but they could not be legally obliged to do so.
Coolproducts environmental campaign coordinator Stephane Arditi said, “A-G labels have done a great job guiding shoppers towards efficient products that bring down energy bills.
“But all the plusses have been a real minus in terms of clarity and understanding. It’s great that we’re now returning to a clear A-G label.”
Andrea Voigt is director general of the European Partnership for Energy and the Environment (EPEE), an industry group. She said the rescaling was “highly worrying” for manufacturers and would confuse customers. When the rules came in, a product made before that date and graded A, could sit alongside similar or better goods made after the rules were brought in, which would only be rated C.
“A categorical ban on A and B sounds a bit strange to me,” she said. The 10 year rescaling seemed arbitrary, she added. Leaving A and B empty would not work for all products, some of which had sparsely populated A and B ranked goods, said Voigt.
She said the rescaling would create more red tape when the Juncker Commission was meant to be pushing for less burdensome “better regulation”. She told EURACTIV, “We have a working label, she said, it fully fulfills what it is supposed to fulfill. Why come up with rescaling?”
>>Read: Our Better Regulation coverage
No consumption label
The paper stopped short of introducing a label showing the total energy consumption of a product. Instead, it said the regulation could, where relevant, highlight it on a label.
While current labels show efficiency, they don’t show the actual energy used. This can lead to big products getting a better label than smaller ones, campaigners warned.
A Commission-run online database will be set up to make sure suppliers obey the rules, according to the document. Officials estimated the database would cost about €2 million.
The EU is the last major region to build such a database, which should help dealers and customers access the labels.
Technical rules written by officials for putting the legislation into practice, should “prescribe” the use of electronic labels to take advantage of digital technology, the paper said. Electronic labels could in the future replace or complement the physical label.
National governments should launch promotional campaigns when the new labels are brought in. They should ensure penalties for non-compliance are “effective, proportionate, and dissuasive”, the document said.
Member states should be able to create incentives to increase the use of energy efficient products, but they must comply with EU competition rules, and should not cover fiscal or taxation matters.
The European Union has energy efficiency targets for both 2020 and 2030. Efficiency is also a central part of the Commission’s Energy Union strategy. Greater efficiency will contribute to energy security, a major concern after shortages caused by the Ukraine crisis, and to the fight against climate change.
>>Read: Our Energy Union coverage
World leaders will meet in Paris in November to try to agree a legally binding commitment to limit global warming. The Commission is expected to bring out legislation to support that after the UN Climate Change Conference.
The Commission has a policy of not commenting on leaks.