The global energy crisis is something that has plagued the world since the 1970’s. This issue is deeply entrenched in the average American’s daily life, from the products they choose to the environmental effects it is having and will continue to have on future generations. Overconsumption is the most common cause of the global energy crisis, with the most evident by-product being pollution and the substantial increase of greenhouse gasses.
In 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to help combat the energy crisis, introduced Energy Star as a voluntary labeling program designed to identify and promote energy-efficient products to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The creation of this government agency was the start of looking at the energy consumption levels, for enacted appliances, in both the residential and commercial environments.
As the Energy Star organization began to grow, it considered all the stakeholders in the energy space, including the utility companies, advocacy groups, appliance manufacturers, and the end consumer. To reduce energy consumption in the United States, all of these stakeholders needed work together to make progress.
Manufacturers have made great strides in creating more energy efficient products. Consumers can go into any home improvement or appliance store and see home appliances with FTC yellow tags, designating their annual energy usage. In fact, 85% of consumers are aware of the Energy Star symbol, the EPA reported. Since 1992, people have saved $362 billion in utility bills since the standard was begun.
This transition to more energy efficient appliances has not been without its struggles. While some products have become more energy efficient; performance has suffered. End consumers have commented that there are dishwashers that are not getting dishes clean or washing machines and dryers that have to go through several cycles before clothes become clean or dry. It is very important that a slight reduction in energy usage does not overshadow the performance of the product. Manufacturers may want to shift their focus to creating resources on new Internet of Things (IoT), regeneration, battery backup, and other types of products that, when combined with energy efficient products will drive energy usage down, without sacrificing performance.
Thankfully, all the stakeholders in the energy space are committed to reducing energy usage and the by-products of it. Where one stakeholder is stalled; another has the ability to move the country forward to achieve the overall goal. Energy companies have worked hard to move toward more efficient energy creation, with less toxic by-products to the environment. One of the by-products of energy creation is the greenhouse gas sulfur hexafluoride (SF6 ).
There is no alternative to completely removing the SF6 emission from the energy creation cycle, so the EPA and their utility company partners have been working together since 1999 to reduce the amount of this greenhouse gas in several different ways. For example: detecting, repairing, and/or replacing problem equipment, as well as educating gas handlers on proper handling techniques of SF6 gas during equipment installation, servicing, and disposal. This partnership has been highly successful. There has been an overall reduction of SF6 of 75% from the start of this program in 1999 to 2014. With over 86 nation-wide partners, in almost every state, working together to improve energy creation by reducing greenhouse gasses.
The utility companies and EPA are still hard at work, trying to find even better solutions to the energy issues faced by the United States. Some utility companies are installing solar panels, using pumped hydroelectric energy storage (PHES), and/or leveraging wind turbines with battery backup to augment power usage during peak demand, reducing the need to add costly power plants which may not be as environmentally friendly. Utility companies are continuing the effort to change individual households to smart meters and employing other smart technologies to measure energy usage.
The final stakeholder in this equation is the consumer. Energy Star was created to help the consumer make better decisions regarding the products they use in their homes and businesses. Some surveys state that energy conservation does not factor into the decision making process when the average American is buying a new home appliance. Why is that? Is it because they don’t care or is it a lack of understanding and education from the rest of the ecosystem? ‘
To truly reduce the energy consumption and therefore the emission of greenhouse gases, Energy Star, the product manufacturers, advocacy groups and the utility companies should work together to make it clear how much the consumer will save in energy for this product, the overall true energy impact of their choice, and the safety and environmental impact with making that choice. It’s important to know whether the model is Energy Star listed. You can research ahead of their purchase by going to the Energy Star web site or to manufacturers or retailer’s websites to check before making the final decision.
Overall, energy programs for appliances have made great strides in energy conservation and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, helping put the energy crisis at bay in the United States. Energy Star has reported that they have successfully delivered energy and cost savings across the country, saving businesses, organizations, and consumers $24 billion in 2012 alone. They are also able to report a reduction of 2.4 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions since the start of the organization.
Each stakeholder in this space has made great progress in achieving their common goal. Yet, each one has more work to do for the best possible environmental result. Electronics OEMs need to put a stronger emphasis on IoT systems that show on demand energy usage and conservation options to help end users measure results. One thing is certain: change is coming, and we are all in this together.