Is a Gasoline-Powered Alarm Clock Worthy of an “Energy Star” Label?

As absurd as that may seem, according to the Energy Star program, run jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Energy Department, this “alarm clock” indeed received an Energy Star label as an “energy-saving product.” In fact, over a dozen other absurd products were submitted and approved for an Energy Star label.

Fortunately, the gasoline-powered alarm clock and other ridiculous products were never going to be actual consumer products. They were part of a nine-month study from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) analyzing the quality of Energy Star’s approval process. For its study, The GAO invented four fictitious companies that “invented” these products and submitted their applications for Energy Star consideration. Some of the other crazy products submitted and approved by  Energy Star included an “air purifier” that was basically a space heater with a feather duster taped on it, a dehumidifier and a heat pump that only existed on paper and was never tested for real energy-efficiency. The GAO pointed out that many of these dubious products were approved with surprising quickness with some being approved thirty minutes after submission. In fact, when the gasoline-powered alarm clock was up for consideration, the application described the dimensions of it as that of an “electric generator” (artist’s rendition below), but it still received an Energy Star label without any “red flags” going up.

The “Energy-Efficient Alarm Clock” (an artist’s rendition):

The “Air Purifier”:

From the results of this study and of past ones, Energy Department officials admit that their approval process for Energy Star labeling was not “accurate or verifiable” for many products.  For example, Energy Star requires manufacturers of windows and fluorescent lights must have an independent laboratory verify their energy efficiency. However, manufacturers of appliances like refrigerators, washing machines and air-conditioners do not need independent verification, despite the fact that such products consume far more energy than light bulbs or windows. Manufacturers only need to check a box on a form to signify energy efficiency. Consumer Reports tested one of these approved refrigerators by LG in October 2008 and found that the refrigerator was nowhere near as efficient as the maker claimed. Moreover, the Energy Department found that a Samsung refrigerator did not comply with efficiency standards.  In fact in some cases, the GAO found that many products not having an Energy Star label consumed less energy than similar products that had it.

Defrauding the Energy Star program is so easy that a manufacturer, or anyone for that matter, can download an Energy Star label from the internet, put it on a sticker and apply it to any product; and the consumer would have no way to tell if the product is a genuinely energy-efficient or fraudulent. With all of these gaping holes in the Energy Star program, it is no wonder that those auditing this program believe that this is “highly vulnerable to fraud.”

Unfortunately, the Energy Star program is rife with many more glaring problems than those described above. Fortunately, those managing the Energy Star program only need common sense solutions to fix many of their issues; however, as seen above, the government using common sense in carrying out policy is often a daunting task. One solution is to require uniform independent testing of all products wanting an Energy Star label. Another is to make the Energy Star label forgery-proof, or at least forgery-resistant, like that of a driver’s license,  so that energy charlatans could not get away with promoting products like gasoline-powered alarm clocks as energy-efficient. Also, the approval process for any product should not be as quick as thirty minutes, no matter how sure anyone could be of its energy-efficiency. These are just some of the simple solutions that the Energy Star program needs to implement immediately, and they would have an almost instantaneous effect on promoting energy efficiency in the country.

With a vast amount of stimulus dollars funding the Energy Star program and a great amount of consumers having been given incentives to buy Energy Star products, it would not be provocative to state that the EPA and Energy Department must reform the Energy Star program to remove the incompetency within it and to eliminate the fraud that compromises its integrity.  The 18-year-old Energy Star program has been a great asset to America’s energy conservation needs, and, as energy conservation becomes more important to America’s energy future, the Energy Star program must strive to be an effective, reliable organization that the American people can rely upon to make the right choices that create a greener America.

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One response to “Is a Gasoline-Powered Alarm Clock Worthy of an “Energy Star” Label?

  1. dwymond

    Based on the results of independent audits of the Energy Star program, it appears the Energy Star label has really lost a lot of its credibility. The Government Accountability Office, EPA, and Consumer Reports have all conducted independent reviews of the program and reached similar results.

    A November 2009 report from the EPA Inspector General concluded, “EPA cannot be certain ENERGY STAR products are the more energy-efficient and cost effective choice for consumers.” [1] If that is coming from the EPA, I would say Energy Star is in serious trouble. If energy star is not definitively saving money and energy, then what is it doing?

    $300 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus bill) has been allocated for rebates for purchasing Energy Star appliances. Rather than go towards rebates, that money should re-invested in the program and used for better oversight and new product testing.

    Let’s use the stimulus money to improve a bad situation rather than propagate an existing problem.

    [1] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Inspector General. Evaluation Report. Energy Star Program Integrity Can Be Enhanced Through Expanded Product Testing. 30 Nov 2009.

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