New energy labels: the energy transition starts at home

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The revamped labels are simplified, switching back to the A-G scale and eliminating the A+, A++, A+++ classes. [European Commission]

As of 1 March, consumers will find new, revamped labels on dishwashers, washing machines, fridges and televisions. But to reach our climate ambitions, the European Commission must introduce A-G dedicated energy labels for all products responsible for high energy consumption, write Mélissa Zill and Jean-Pierre Schweitzer.

Mélissa Zill is the programme manager at ECOS. Jean-Pierre Schweitzer is a policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). Together, ECOS and the EEB lead the Coolproducts campaign – a coalition of NGOs working to ensure better products for consumers and the planet. 

Energy labels are a great ally in our quest to reducing emissions – they have encouraged consumers to buy more efficient products for more than 20 years, helping each European family save up to €285 per year. Today, 14 product categories have energy labels, including most home appliances (such as washing machines or dishwashers), lamps, air conditioners and boilers.

As of 1 March, consumers will find new, revamped labels mainly on four product types: dishwashers, washing machines, fridges and televisions. Lamps will also get new energy labels on 1 September. This is good news for both consumers and the environment, but more work is needed if we are serious about reaching our climate objectives.

What’s new in our energy labels?

The revamped labels are simplified, switching back to the A-G scale and eliminating the A+, A++, A+++ classes. Why? As products grew more energy-efficient, classes above A (the ‘pluses’) were introduced, while the lowest classes (E, F, G) were left empty. The new labels will regularise this, and so will not be directly comparable with their previous versions. A fridge labelled as A+++ today may become a C-class product.

In fact, we will not see many A-labelled appliances in the next few years:  the ‘A class’ is designed to remain empty for a while, as an incentive to innovation. In addition, efficiency limits behind each class will be revised on a regular basis.

One more detail many might notice is the addition of a QR code to the labels. Scanning the code leads to entries in the EPREL database, where additional product information is made available by manufacturers.

Not only new labels – measures, too

Along with the revised labels, the EU is introducing new ecodesign measures for eleven product categories, specifying minimum requirements for energy consumption, ensuring that the worst-performing models can no longer be sold in the EU.

The revised energy labels and new ecodesign measures are expected to jointly deliver 167 TWh of energy savings every year by 2030, as much as the final annual energy consumption of Denmark.

The new measures will not only help cut our electricity bills. They also include ground-breaking requirements to make appliances easier to repair too. For example, manufacturers of washing machines and fridges will now be obliged to provide professional repairers with key spare parts for 10 years and, more importantly still, design repairability in, for instance by ensuring easier disassembly of their products.

Activists hail new EU energy labelling rules for TVs, fridges

Consumer organisations have applauded an EU proposal to restore the familiar A-G energy labelling scale for goods like fridges, TV screens, and washing machines, saying the current ‘A+’ system is confusing for shoppers.

We are far from done – significant delays for everyday products

Revised energy labels are set to bring about sizeable energy savings, but much more could be achieved if the European Commission ramped up its ambition. Updates for the energy labels for many products are constantly delayed.

In the last couple of years, we have seen postponements in the revision of labels for vacuum cleaners, laptops, heaters and air conditioners, to name only a few products.

The process is painfully slow: a telling example is the energy label for air conditioners. The last time the European Commission and member states discussed the revision of labels was in September 2019, and the talks have not advanced since then.

These delays are having a real, negative impact on our energy bills today: a new label could help to fairly compare the efficiency of split and portable air conditioning units – a great source of confusion as currently A-labelled portable air conditioners guzzle up to 3 times more energy than A-labelled wall units.

Worse still, a number of products are missing the label altogether, including iconic examples such as vacuum cleaners and laptops.

Vacuum cleaners lost their label in November 2018, when one of the manufacturers, Dyson, won a legal fight in the European courts over the test methods used to measure their performance. The European Commission has been working on a new label since then.

In the case of computers, discussions on an energy label have been going on for years, with no tangible result. A pity, as a label would not only allow consumers to identify the most energy efficient computers and laptops, but it could also inform buyers about the repairability and durability of their purchase.

Devices that are more durable and easier to repair would save people’s money in the long-term, while reducing the tremendous environmental impacts stemming from the manufacturing of the millions of machines sold in the EU every year.

As for heaters, we are faced with yet another issue. Here, no modifications in the calculation of energy classes are expected until 2026 (!), a purely cosmetic label update (new pictograms) being considered at an earlier stage.

However, there is a great need for a change already today, since right now fossil-fuel technologies such as gas-fired boilers are still eligible for an A-class label. This will not help consumers make better choices: we need to remove A+, A++, and A+++ classes from the label, and make sure fossil-fuel appliances are given the lowest rating in the scale.

New labels, more labels, better labels – now

New energy labels on a number of electrical goods as of 1 March will save us millions of euros – good for our pockets, and cut millions of tonnes of CO2 emissions – good for the planet. But to reach our climate ambitions, the European Commission must now move up a gear and introduce A-G dedicated energy labels for all products responsible for high energy consumption.

In addition, labels should include more information: consumers have the right to easily access repairability and durability scores for the products they buy, and there is no better place for this information than the tool they already know and appreciate – the energy label. Only this way will we empower them to choose truly efficient new appliances.

Time to make sure people make the right choices – for themselves, and for the planet. The energy transition starts at home.

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Over the past ten years, a raft of EU legislation has been passed making white goods like fridges, dishwashers and washing machines more efficient, recyclable and connected.

In this Special Report, EURACTIV dives into the changes that have already taken place …

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