The U.S. Department of Energy labels appliances with an energy rating that provides a projected usage of BTUs or kWh per year. In the letter below, a consumer, “Bob,” expresses confusion and frustration about what that rating really means. Can the DOE do better? — Publisher
Dear Department of Energy:
I am far from being an outspoken environmentalist or even very green, but I have been trying to figure out ways to reduce my energy consumption and look for green alternatives. I have recently been trying to read the energy labels on many devices, only to find that the “required energy disclosures” are pretty much worthless.
Let me cite some examples.
A TV Is More than a TV
I recently read some articles saying that plasma TVs are very inefficient and that California wants to ban them. So I looked at the label on the back of my plasma TV. The label says my TV uses 538 kW. What does that mean?
In my own research, I found out that the energy rating is based on using a device four hours a day. The label does not tell me this fact, and my guess is that my household probably uses it much more often.
These labels need to clearly say, “XX is the average kW per hour usage of this device. The average per year is usage is XXXX, and the average used in this calculation is XX hours per day.”
There should also be a disclaimer: “To estimate true energy consumption, you also need to consider the power needs of other items used in conjunction with this device, such as the sound system, cable box (always on), DVD player (always on stand by), and any other devices.”
My TV solution was to buy a Kill-a-Watt, a very cheap device made by P3 International. I used it to calculate my plasma TV’s consumption by myself. I was shocked to determine my plasma TV’s total kWh consumption with all the devices turned on. (I also hate to think about all the work involved for the average American to calculate their own energy consumption for just a simple TV.)
I know my purchasing decision would be different today.
What Does 80 Percent Efficient Mean?
Next I looked at my brand new super-quiet furnace. Its label does not tell me how many natural gas BTUs or kWs it uses. It would be nice to know per minute how much energy my furnace consumes. Oh, but the label does say my furnace is .80 efficient. What does that really mean for my personal consumption using this device?
I understand that this would vary with weather conditions and how low you set the thermostat, etc. I just expect a U.S. Government energy label to provide more helpful information than this. For example, I think a furnace label needs to show gas and/or electricity usage per minute of operation.
The manufacturers could disclaim this by saying, “The furnace cycles on and off, so please consult a professional for actual energy usage.” Or, I could monitor the device for, say, an hour, and figure it out myself.
Now, this is radical, but why don’t we require manufactures to include a monitor/meter on the front of the device that shows both the electricity in kWh and thermals usage per hour? If P3 can sell a plug-in meter for $30 to monitor electric usage, then I am sure this would only add a few dollars to production costs. How incredible would it be if you could enter in your price for the energy unit then see the cost?
Imagine if the average American could monitor and see real results in turning down the thermostat.
My family has a cottage in Northern Wisconsin. We use a particular water boiler system which, I am told, is the most energy-efficient and reliable device next to geothermal. I have to ask the question, “Is it?” There is no way to tell by reading the label required by the U.S. government.
Again, this label does not tell the energy consumption. I have no idea how much electricity this boiler consumes. Compound this with the fact that there are at least three different electrical devices with amp labels on the outside. Can I just add these up, or are there more inside the unit?
I want to install alternative energy on our cottage for a couple of reasons. This is a very green and eco-friendly thing to do, but as importantly, there are frequent power outages in this area. The device consumes LP (propane), but when the power goes, so does the pump, as it needs electricity too.
The label clearly tells me the comparative energy efficiency; but, again, this is worthless. There MUST be more information.
I had a boiler repairman look at the boiler, but he could not tell me how much electricity it used. I called an authorized dealer, who didn’t know, but faxed me their Engineering Guide. By the way, the Engineering Guide only shows that I should connect to a 12-amp fuse; it does not break out the electricity usage.
Finally, I called the manufacturer directly and, after being passed around to three people, learned “they will not disclose” the information. I believe I was talking to their legal department by the time the call was over. Is there a conspiracy theory here that I should know about?
There’s a meter on my propane tank, but the increments on the gauge are too wide to calculate propane usage for a single device. An electrician could install a digital meter on my electrical box; however, this is way too macro to look at the usage for just my boiler pump.
I know an electrician could use a meter on a particular hard-wired device to show me the usage for that instant, but I cannot afford to pay him to stand there for a full day as it cycles. And that still would not help me with the propane (LP) calculation.
All I’m Asking
I plan on doing many of the above items and will do my best to monitor/calculate each appliance’s usage.
I am asking my government to do your part, too.
Please help us get better information. I truly believe many more of us would conserve energy, if we just had the data to make an informed decision. We can’t do it on our own, but you, our government, could provide that.
We’re counting on you.
An average American who is just trying to keep costs down in tough times