CBS Newsletter
Spring 1994
pg. 3

Aerial view of Washington D.C.

News From the D.C. Office

Lubricating the Market for Energy-Efficient Products: Snake Oil vs. Slick Databases

A handful of tools are essential for those involved in analyzing energy-efficiency policies or designing and implementing programs, no matter what their area of interest or institutional or individual role. My own short list includes:

My colleagues could certainly add to this list, but for now I want to focus on the last item: data on energy-efficient products.

Participants at last January's meeting of the Consortium for Energy Efficiency discussed the need for comprehensive, accurate, up-to-date, and easily accessible data on energy-efficient products. Good product data represent, on the one hand, a requirement common to many utility and government "market-pull" strategies and, on the other, an opportunity for coordinated action by CEE members and others. CEE has formed a working group on product efficiency data. I will be working with this group on behalf of LBL and the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Building Technologies.

The CEE working group agreed that the data problem has two components: wasted efforts through duplication and inconsistencies, and significant gaps or lack of access to the data. A number of industry and trade associations already compile and publish product data within their limited terrain (some alphabet-soup examples: AHAM, ARI, GAMA, NLPIC, and NFRC). But these follow different formats, are sometimes difficult to use because of arcane systems of model identification, and often are not easily accessible even to practitioners or policy wonks, let alone to the "average consumer."

Existing federal requirements for appliance labeling do little to help even the most motivated consumers identify a best-practice model. For some products-for example, commercial equipment and lighting covered by the Energy Policy Act of 1992-there is no standardized method of measuring energy use or efficiency. Often, utilities and government agencies alike are reluctant to take on the task of cataloging and publishing data on efficient products by brand and model number. They are concerned about legal liability from inaccurate or incomplete data and political liability from information that, even when correct, may defame the less-efficient products. Agencies also hesitate when faced with the significant costs of compiling, updating, and disseminating product data.

On the other hand, at least four states (California, New York, Washington, and Florida) now compile data on energy-efficient products. Federal procurement agencies have begun to publish catalogs and develop on-line data systems for a few energy-efficient products. LBL's Appliance Standards Group is starting to collect product data in selected appliance categories. Groups such as ACEEE, E-Source, and Home Energy magazine occasionally publish specialized lists of efficient products.

The proposed DOE Regional Centers for building efficiency, Environmental Protection Agency's voluntary action programs, and other new market-pull and outreach initiatives triggered by EPAct and the Climate Change Action Plan offer new channels for both wholesale and retail dissemination of product information. Finally, "eco-labeling" programs that incorporate energy efficiency, such as Canada's Environmental Choice Program and the privately sponsored PowerSmart and Green Seal programs, need to keep track of the products they certify and label.

Through its new working group, CEE now provides a forum for coordinated planning and action among these potential partners. A first step will be to specify the needs for product data and catalog existing or proposed data sources. The group then hopes to identify options for a sustainable and coordinated national data network that links existing and planned efforts by industry, utilities, government agencies, and other interested parties.

—Jeff Harris

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Environmental Energy Technology Division
1250 Maryland Ave. SW, Suite 150
Washington, D.C. 20024


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