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ACEEE Calls on U.S. Department of Energy to Act on Problems With Refrigerator Testing Found by Consumer Reports

ACEEE Calls on U.S. Department of Energy to Act on Problems With Refrigerator Testing Found by Consumer Reports


September 3, 2008

Media Contact(s):

Glee Murray, 202-507-4010, Associate Director for Outreach

Washington, D.C. — In its October 2008 issue, Consumer Reports magazine found that two manufacturers produce refrigerators that use substantially more energy than claimed by the manufacturers. Due to misleading tests, these units earn an ENERGY STAR® label, when in fact they do not meet the ENERGY STAR requirements. Based on this information, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) today strongly urged DOE to remove these models from the list of ENERGY STAR models (including similar models made by the same manufacturers, but sold under other brand names). ACEEE also asked DOE to determine if any of these models are violating federal minimum efficiency standards. If models are violating the standards, then ACEEE urged that the offending manufacturer or manufacturers be fined in accordance with the law. “The appliance standards and ENERGY STAR programs rely on manufacturers to make good faith efforts to honestly test and report product performance,” noted ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel. “In order to encourage all manufacturers to be honest, DOE must quickly prosecute violations." 

According to Consumer Reports, the two manufacturers turn the ice-maker off during testing, even though this is not how refrigerators are used in practice — turning off the ice-makers lets the ice inside melt. ACEEE has reviewed the issue and concluded that these manufacturers are misusing the test procedure and erred in their testing. Furthermore, Consumer Reports found that at least one refrigerator uses more than twice the electricity that the manufacturer claims. If this is true, this refrigerator likely does not meet federal minimum efficiency standards for refrigerators and would be in violation of the law.

A similar problem involving room air conditioners arose in Australia, involving one of the same manufacturers. Ultimately the Australian government fined this manufacturer approximately $3 million Australian (see http://www.accc.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/763524/fromItemId/632284).

In its article, Consumer Reports makes four recommendations:

  1. Testing procedures should be brought in line with the technology available in consumer products.
  2. DOE should require some independent verification of test results.
  3. The program should consider a graded qualifying system that uses letters.
  4. Federal officials need to better police companies and enforce standards, including increasing spot checks of ENERGY STAR-qualified products.

ACEEE generally agrees with Consumer Reports’ recommendations, but with some fine-tuning. Many test procedures are old and are in need of updating in order to address the latest in technologies as well as new information on product usage. Congress recently required DOE to regularly revise test procedures, which should help address this problem. ACEEE encourages DOE to quickly identify the test procedures most in need of revision, and start the revision process soon.   

Regarding independent verification of test results, ACEEE notes that for some products, such as central air conditioners, industry trade associations hire an independent laboratory to spot-check manufacturer efficiency tests. A similar system could be set up for refrigerators and other products.  Independent spot-checks of products on the market, something that EPA does for its portion of the ENERGY STAR program, would also be useful. 

ACEEE agrees with Consumer Reports that a graded labeling system would be useful, as these have been successful in many other countries. This would be a useful complement to ENERGY STAR and not a replacement for ENERGY STAR. Based on surveys and focus groups with American consumers, ACEEE recommends a 1-5 star classification, instead of letters (see http://aceee.org/pubs/a021.htm). 

One item where ACEEE disagrees with Consumer Reports is on the title of its article — “Energy Star has lost some luster.” ACEEE has found that while there are few problems with the ENERGY STAR program, overall the program is achieving large energy savings as it motivates manufacturers to produce and consumers to purchase products that are more efficient than would be produced and purchased without ENERGY STAR. As problems with ENERGY STAR are identified, they are generally addressed. For example, Consumers Reports notes that 92% of dishwasher models used to qualify for the ENERGY STAR label, but new revised qualification levels for dishwashers are now in effect and DOE has recently begun working on the next revision. 

Contacts at Consumer Reports are Melissa Valentino, 914-378-2432, and Lauren Hackett, 914-378-2561.