Columnists: Andrew Warren, British Energy Efficiency Federation

Published on: 4 Nov 2016

How UKIP's dubious toaster traumas will lead to higher bills and emissions for everyone

Eco-design rules have slashed energy use and bills across the EU, but, warns eceee’s Patron Andrew Warren, now Brexiteers' myths appear to have demolished hopes of further progress.

Last Tuesday, the College of European Commissioners formally abandoned its plans to place energy labels or eco-design requirements upon a range of electricity consuming products, including hot drink vending machines, hairdyers, toasters and kettles.

Plans to introduce new standards had been deliberately placed on hold this spring, for fear of becoming a target in the UK referendum. But nonetheless all three succeeded in attracting the ire of a range of Brexiteers.

For instance, hitherto obscure UKIP MEP David Coburn received much tabloid coverage for his view that his new toaster didn't appear to be working as well as its predecessor. He claimed he was getting complaints from "all of my constituents" about the "peely-wally machines" with the "power of one candle or something" - even though toasters - including the one he had purchased - were wholly unaffected by any eco-design requirements.

It now seems that Coburn's ignorant prejudices are being permitted to triumph over common sense and consumer interests. This will mean that the addition of new products to the labeling scheme will be prevented, along with the upgrading of A to G standards, endangering EU targets for energy consumption - and depriving consumers of savings on their energy bills - in the process. "These policies are central to the EU's energy efficiency and climate mitigation efforts" warns Jack Hunter of the European Environmental Bureau.

This decision comes despite research for the European Commission by consultancy Deloittes which concluded introducing new eco-design and labeling rules for kettles could save up to 24 per cent of current energy consumption, and would "not result in excessive costs to manufacturers or consumers". Nearly 17 per cent of energy could be saved through increased regulation of toasters.

A full list of possible measures, announced in 2014 to be under consideration for inclusion within the Ecodesign Directive between 2015 and 2017, could have been delivering energy savings equivalent to eight million tons of oil each year. By 2030 they had the potential to cut overall carbon dioxide emissions by 10 million tonnes.

Endlessly ridiculed by anti-EU campaigners for "useless meddling in people's lives", the combination of Ecodesign standards and energy labels is arguably the most successful of the EU's energy efficiency policies. It is set to deliver half the European energy savings target for 2020.

A new report, issued this week by the official European consumers organisation BEUC, has concluded that the average European household obtains benefits worth €330 per year in lower fuel bills from the Eco-Design Directive. And those savings increase to an average €450 per year if the family buys energy saving items from the best performing A to G class.

According to the European Commission's latest assessment, energy consumption of the average product already included within the scheme is 18 per cent lower than it would otherwise have been. Overall energy savings on the 40 product categories covered are equivalent to around 165 million tons of oil per year - more than half the total energy consumption of Germany.

Ecodesign standards are good value for consumers too. According to the International Energy Agency, they generate at least £3 of savings for every pound spent, hence reducing costs as well as consumption. That makes them just about the most cost-effective way of reducing energy use.

Whether any of these existing standards for electric consuming goods for white goods like televisions, vacuum cleaners and washing machines will survive Brexit remains to be seen.

For years they have been heavily criticised by the UK billionaire Sir James Dyson, many of whose eponymously-branded products have fared relatively poorly for energy performance under EU-tests. One of the few industrialists to back Brexit, Dyson is arguing that the UK should be completely out of the EU single market, under which Ecodesign operates.

But the Ecodesign directive has been consistently supported by CECED, the European appliance manufacturers group. Paolo Falcioni, CECED's boss, maintains that his associations are working hard to build support for the programme.

Should Dyson succeed, and Britain ditches Ecodesign after Brexit, some manufacturers may not be entirely disappointed. There would at least be one country where they could flog below-standard, out-of-date appliances that are otherwise barred from sale on the European continent.

Related articles

The views expressed in this column are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the views of eceee or any of its members.

Other columns by Andrew Warren