New enforcement agency promises action on appliances

Richard Frewin of the National Measurement Office talks exclusively to ENDS about plans to step up oversight of energy labelling and ecodesign rules

Firms selling electrical appliances should expect much stronger scrutiny and enforcement of energy efficiency and ecodesign rules, a senior official at the National Measurement Office (NMO) has warned.

The NMO took over responsibility for enforcing energy labelling and ecodesign regulations last November (ENDS Report, December 2009). An investigation into light bulbs had already yielded results and two more successful but so far undisclosed projects are “in the pipeline”, Richard Frewin, its head of enforcement, told ENDS.

Energy labelling and related rules have historically been poorly enforced. Trading standards secured a first prosecution for incorrect display of energy efficiency information only this August, 14 years after the first set of labelling rules entered force (ENDS Report, September 2010).

The NMO’s first completed investigation discovered that 12% of light bulbs carried incorrect energy efficiency information. It has imposed ‘business improvement plans’ on three suppliers as a result.

Future projects will include enforcement of the ban on 75-watt incandescent light-bulbs, which came into force on 1 September.

Appliances are responsible for a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Recent policies, and those expected in the near future, could cut appliance-related carbon dioxide by 24.4 million tonnes per year by 2020, the environment department (DEFRA) calculates.

This is more than five times the 4.4MtCO<sub>2</sub>/yr DEFRA expects the much talked about Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Efficiency Scheme to save by the same date (ENDS Report, November 2010).

However, surveys for DEFRA have repeatedly shown poor compliance with rules on appliances. Enforcement used to be the preserve of councils’ trading standards teams who did not have the resources or expertise to take action. The August prosecution, by Nottinghamshire County Council, was a test case supported by DEFRA, but it decided the issue would be better addressed by a central agency.

Mislabelled light bulbs

Light bulbs are easier and cheaper to test than large appliances such as fridges so the NMO made this its first focus and sampled 269 incandescent, halogen and compact fluorescent bulbs sold by mainstream retailers early in the year.

Mr Frewin was expecting few breaches but 15 bulbs bore energy ratings that were too high and 11 that were too low. Another five labels had inaccurate information on energy use or light production.

Most cases seemed to be the fault of marketing departments rather than deliberate falsification of results by product testing staff, Mr Frewin said.

The business improvement plans agreed with the three producers of mislabelled bulbs should ensure the errors are corrected and no more mislabelled products make it through the supply chain. The NMO will continue to work with producers to check they comply with the plans.

This approach is more proportionate to the scale of the breaches than prosecution, believes Mr Frewin. In line with the Hampton principles and regulatory compliance code, the NMO is keen to make sure it does not place unnecessary burden on companies and the courts.

New civil sanctions should be available to the NMO soon and will provide a useful alternative, said Mr Frewin (ENDS Report, April 2010). He will measure his team’s success not by the number of enforcement actions brought a year, he stressed, but rather the level of compliance in the market.

Mr Frewin would not disclose the size of his energy labelling and ecodesign enforcement team or its resources because it might give too much information to the companies he is targeting.

The NMO as a whole has about 80 members of staff. It also enforces rules on weighing and measuring equipment, and parts of the restriction of hazardous substances (RoHS) and battery regimes.

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