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An analysis of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita for 1989 in United States Dollars compared to the 1991 total energy consumed per capita in equivalent barrels of oil for several countries, found the United States and Canada guilty for having the largest oil consumption per capita at fifty-five barrels while producing a third less than the leading country, Switzerland, in GDP per capita. Switzerland, the poster boy, of efficiency manages to produce more than the United States per capita while consuming half the amount of oil. (Ristinen and Kraushaar, 1999, 6) These astonishing figures present the United States as a wasteful nation plagued by inefficiency. Therefore, it was no surprise when in 1992 the Environmental Protection Agency began a program called Energy Star whose goal was and still is to promote and identify energy efficient products that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The idea behind Energy Star was to reduce United States consumption of fossil fuels, while also making the change economically sound to Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public, thereby increasing United States overall efficiency. The program started out small, targeting electronic devices such as computers and monitors, and then snowballed into undertaking household appliances, lighting, and even businesses and homes. The mechanism on which Energy Star operates is based on an Energy Star label that is placed on appliances, devices, and anything approved by the program. This label lets consumers know that the product meets certain Energy Star efficiency guidelines that vary based on the category. However, the Energy Star program was and still is purely voluntary, meaning manufacturers have the option whether or not to generate products that meet Energy Star efficiency guidelines.
Some of the first devices that carried the Energy Star label were televisions, VCRs, and audio equipment. These devices along with a hoax of others such as copy machines, fax machines, DVD players, printers, and computers, consume energy while they are not in use or in standby mode. For the purposes of this paper, the term standby mode will be defined as the state of any electronic device that is plugged into a household power source, but has its power function turned off. Therefore, in an effort to increase efficiency, any electronic device that carries the Energy Star label will consume less energy during its standby mode. For example, in the case of a television that normally consumes six watts of electricity in standby, an Energy Star labeled television will consume fewer than three watts of electricity in its standby mode, which cuts its energy consumption in half during non-working hours.
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Where Energy Star electronics make cut backs on the electricity used in standby mode, Energy Star appliances such as refrigerators, dishwashers, and washing machines are more efficient during actual running time. In fact, Energy Star refrigerators consume at least ten percent under the federal minimum, dishwashers at least twenty-five percent under the federal minimum, and washing machines over fifty percent less than the federal minimum. Sadly there are no Energy Star standards set yet for dryers, ovens, ranges, and water heaters. The flip side of the higher appliance efficiencies brought forth by Energy Star is that Energy Star appliances for the most part cost more to manufacture and therefore have a higher retail value. The higher pricing makes Energy Star refrigerators and dishwashers a less economically sound alternative, but maintains washing machines as a profitable choice.
Refrigerators are one of the largest power consumers in the home. In fact a refrigerator manufactured in 1990 uses over nine hundred-kilowatt hours a years. Today, however, federal standards for refrigerators are more stringent calling for more than a thirty percent drop from the standards of 1990. The Energy Star program goes a step further by asking manufacturers to drop energy consumption by an extra ten percent under the federal standard. Manufacturers can usually achieve this goal and place the Energy Star label on their products by equipping their refrigerators with better insulation, a more efficient compressor, improved heat transfer surfaces, and more precise temperature and defrost mechanisms. Best of all, by consuming less energy refrigerators output less waste heat keeping kitchens cool and lowering air conditioning bills. However, Energy Star refrigerators are priced higher than standard refrigerators, because current marketing schemes make Energy Star refrigerators with a number of extra features. In fact an ordinary refrigerator equipped with Energy Star is hard to come by. Instead consumers must purchase higher model numbers that include numerous fancy features including Energy Star, and therefore have much higher prices than average models. Sample calculations show that on average an Energy Star refrigerator saves five dollars a year over non-energy star models, but its initial cost is close to one hundred dollars more. When coupling the operating savings of an energy star refrigerator with the extra cost, one finds that a reduction of ten percent under the federal standard is hardly enough to compensate for the initial added cost of buying an Energy Star refrigerator.
Unlike refrigerators, dishwashers are not always operational. Therefore, depending on the frequency of usage of the dishwasher, the operating savings for buying an Energy Star dishwasher could vary. However, one sure thing is that Energy Star dishwashers consume twenty-five percent less energy than the minimum federal standard. These values are computed through an Efficiency Factor, which is the ratio of loads per year to kilowatt-hours per year. The great decrease in energy usage by Energy Star dishwashers is a result of less pre-rinsing, an effective wash action, an energy efficient motor, as well as sensors that determine cycle length and temperature of water based on how soiled the dishes are. With these extra feature, an Energy Star dishwasher would save its owner around thirteen dollars a year in operating costs over normal dishwashers if used the standard two hundred sixty times per year. Of course less usage means less energy consumption, but also means less annual savings between Energy Star and non Energy Star models. Despite the annual savings in operating costs, Energy Star dishwashers tend to suffer from the same marketing schemes that refrigerators do. Energy Star dishwashers are usually higher in model number, and therefore come equipped with a variety of extra features besides Energy Star that make their prices around one hundred dollars more. After taking this extra initial cost into consideration, it is clear that an energy star dishwasher is currently not an economical answer.
Finally, an Energy Star washing machine consumes fifty percent under the federal minimum. It is able to achieve this by having a superior design, using less water with a larger capacity, equipped with sensors that can regulate water usage and water temperature, and new water extraction technology, which will reduce dryer operating time. Energy Star washing machines are compared based on a new Modified Energy Factor, which takes into consideration the times used per year, the capacity of the washing machine, the energy consumed per year, and how much dryer time will be saved. Calculations are usually based on a yearly load total of three hundred and ninety. Sample calculations for this frequency of usage showed that the Energy Star washing machine saves forty-five dollars yearly in operating costs, and can be found on the market for no extra cost over non-energy star models. This makes the Energy Star washing machine one of the best deals on the block! Please note that calculations done for both the washing machine and dishwasher were based on an electric water heater and a cost of around eight cents per kilowatt-hour. The use of a gas water heater will drastically drop annual savings between Energy Star and non-Energy Star models.
The next big thing that Energy Star has targeted is the use of Compact Fluorescent Bulbs (CFLs) for lighting purposes. Energy Star is currently running an advertising campaign titled, Change a Light, Change the World, pushing for wider use of CFLs. These bulbs tend to consume seventy-five percent less electricity while emitting the same wattage as incandescent bulbs of the same rating, saving twenty dollars over the lifetime of the bulb at sixty watts, and thirty-five dollars at one hundred watts. The lifetime of the CFLs is around six thousand hours while incandescent bulbs average around one thousand hours. However with the operating benefits there is also an extra initial investment of five to fifteen dollars per bulb. This extra cost is more than made up for in the reduced operating costs of the CFL. Therefore, CFLs are economical and efficient making them the staple mark of the Energy Star program.
Despite its benefits, Energy Star also has some drawbacks. First, there are no designated Energy Star levels for products to be rated on. This means that products that barely meet the Energy Star standards and products that go above and beyond the standard will be grouped together. This is a cause for concern because consumers who “follow the star” will tend to believe that both Energy Star products will save them the same in operating costs above standard non-Energy Star products. However, one product could be meeting the ten percent energy star minimum, while the other saves over twenty-five percent in operating costs. A second problem is that Energy Star standards do not meet up with what is technologically possible for today’s world. Some people believe that Energy Star standards could be more stringent calling for increased efficiency. Finally, a major criticism of Energy Star found on the Environmental Protection Agency website in a report titled, Overview of Labeling Programs Worldwide, addresses the fact that the Energy Star program only takes into consideration one attribute of the entire product life cycle, which is it’s energy efficiency during operation. However, Energy Star fails to address the extraction of raw materials, manufacture, transportation, use, recycling, and disposal aspects of the product life. Therefore, a product that is deemed Energy Star could seem environmentally friendly when examining it’s energy efficiency and operation, but upon looking at the entire life span of the product one could find that Energy Star labeled products are actually detrimental to the environment.
In conclusion, Energy Star labeled products meet a standard set of criteria that makes them more efficient during their time of operation, saving users in household electricity bills. However, one must not “follow the star”, but complete their own analysis of the product depending on their average use, as well as annual energy consumption, and extra initial investment. The Energy Star logo should only be used as a guide.
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Overview of Labeling Programs Worldwide. 2 Nov. 2002.
Ristinen A., Robert and Kraushaar J., Jack. 1999.Energy and the Environment. John Wiley
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