The end of double and triple plus

From 1 March there will be a new energy efficiency label for large household appliances, TVs and monitors

If you plan to buy a new large household appliance or consumer electronics device after February, you may be surprised to see an unfamiliar rating on the energy efficiency label, because the European Commission has fundamentally revised its guidelines for reporting energy efficiency. From 1 March 2021, retailers and manufacturers are required to use the new label. This will initially apply to refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, washing machines, washer-dryers, TVs and computer monitors.

In recent years, consumers have become accustomed to seeing the large majority of appliances classified with an A rating for energy efficiency, but they now need to switch to a new system: According to the European Commission, consumers struggled to use the information on the old labels to compare appliances, compounded by the appearance of increasingly more supplemental information. In fact, most products weren’t simply rated with an A, but with up to three plusses (+). Additional information showed how far a device was from the top A+++ rating as a percentage. This confusing situation has arisen for a good reason: Manufacturers have successfully developed more efficient products and diluted the usefulness of the information presented on the label.

The new label will continue to use the efficiency ratings scale from A to G, and the traffic light colors from green to red. However, the class levels have been adjusted to ensure that an A rating will only be reached in exceptional cases, based on current appliances. Anyone who has purchased an appliance in the past, and ensured they bought one with the top efficiency in a green range may find their appliance is reclassified downwards to light green, or even red, after the start of March. For example, many refrigerators that previously were rated A+++ and in the green category will be reclassified into the D (light green) or E (orange) classes, with only the most energy efficient models likely to achieve a C and remain “green”. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the appliance has become less efficient overnight at the end of February – only that the criteria to achieve the top rating has become a lot stricter with the new label.

Many are unaware of the upcoming changes

Many consumers have not heard about the changes coming to the energy efficiency label, taking place in just a few weeks. In a recent representative study* conducted by gfu in Germany, almost half of the respondents (46 %) were unaware of the changes. Another 37 % noted they knew that something was changing, but couldn’t say exactly what.

When we explained that the changes will lead to a clearer differentiation between the appliance energy ratings, the majority of respondents (54 %) welcomed the new label. Only 11 % actively rejected the changes – the remainder were undecided or had not yet formed an opinion. The clear majority were convinced that stricter criteria make sense: 59 % believe that manufacturers will be subsequently incentivized to improve the efficiency of their products. Despite the majority’s positive outlook on the new label, a third of those surveyed feared it may take some time to get used to, especially shortly after its introduction. 40 % are in favor of introducing official regulations, with 26 % against.

The new labelling rules not only adjust the classification boundaries to distribute appliances more evenly across the ratings classes – the new assessment changes how energy efficiency is actually calculated, amongst other things. For example, the calculation of annual energy consumption used varying cycles. Dishwasher efficiency was calculated on the basis of 280 cycles per year, washing machines on 220 loads of washing per year. Going forward, energy consumption ratings will be based on 100 cycles, across the board. This allows you to evaluate appliances based on your particular usage habits with a simpler comparison.

Energy efficiency calculations for TVs and monitors have been similarly adjusted to use a simpler calculation. Previously, it was assumed you’d use these devices for four hours per day. The new formula shows the energy consumption over a uniform 1,000 hours. If contrast enhancing technology such as High Dynamic Range (HDR) is a feature, this energy consumption is reported additionally, as more energy is used to provide the higher brightness levels. It will be exciting to see how the new eco-design guidelines that have driven this change in labelling affect the development of TV picture quality in the future. The latest generation of displays has an 8K resolution, four times as many pixels as the best-selling Ultra-HD TVs. More pixels in a display means that more surface area around each pixel is required. These spaces “swallow” light, i.e. energy. With the new label, displays with the highest resolutions may no longer meet the eco-design standards. If a device fails to reach even the G class in energy efficiency ratings, it must be removed from the market.

Label with more information than just energy consumption

The new label doesn’t just provide information about the energy consumption of the products. Depending on the appliance category, other useful information must be included: The new label on washing machines will also note the water consumption and duration of a washing cycle. Information about the noise emissions must also appear on the label. This is particularly useful when evaluating whether an appliance is appropriate for an open-plan kitchen as opposed to a separate room in the cellar.

“The new energy efficiency label improves the information that is provided to consumers, and, at the same time, ensures that manufacturers remain committed to investing heavily in the development of sustainable products. These are two very positive outcomes”, said Dr. Sara Warneke, managing director of gfu Consumer & Home Electronics GmbH, when asked about the upcoming changes. However, she pointed out, “With the new criteria, TV manufacturers in particular will likely struggle to reconcile image and sound improvements with energy efficiency requirements. It’s not in the consumers’ best interest if their experience through impressive image quality and cinema-like sound falls by the wayside.”

*Representative survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of gfu Consumer & Home Electronics GmbH, with more than 2,000 respondents from Germany, in the period 3–5 February 2021