The next time you’re out at the mall looking for a new refrigerator, television, or electronic device, do you need to worry about how much energy the product consumes?
The short answer is “yes, but not as much as you used to”. Both our provincial and federal governments set minimum energy efficiency standards for many energy-using products, a topic I review in detail in my recent report Restoring Balance: A Review of the First Three Years of the Green Energy Act. Minimum standards that have become more aggressive over time have helped make our products more energy efficient, while also saving us money by reducing our energy bills. An average set of major appliances purchased today uses only half the energy of its counterpart from 20 years ago.
That’s not to say that minimum standards have eliminated all poor performers. For example, the Ontario government has followed the federal government by delaying its ban of inefficient light bulbs until 2014. The two year delay will cost Canadians $300 million dollars and dump 13 million additional tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In addition, not all product categories are well covered by current standards, and I’ve suggested that Ontario should look at products such as furnace fans and consumer electronics and set new or improved standards where they have the greatest potential to save Ontarians energy and money.
If you want to go beyond the minimum, what should you look for?
For major appliances, you can comparison shop with the EnerGuide label, which shows the model’s estimated annual energy consumption, and how it compares to similar products. If you don’t see this label on your showroom model, be sure to ask the dealer, as it is required by law! You can also usually find EnerGuide information for heating and cooling equipment on product brochures, although this is not a legal requirement.
For a quick way to identify the best energy performers, and also for product categories not covered by the EnerGuide label, such as computers, audio/video equipment, and doors & windows, there’s the ENERGY STAR® label. This label is reserved for products that are premium efficiency models, exceeding minimum standards by a certain amount. Three years ago, Ontario had proposed to set ENERGY STAR® as the minimum standard for major appliances, a promise that was not followed through on.
If you want more information, I recommend the Natural Resources Canada Office of Energy Efficiency website or the Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings, which both go into detail on purchasing energy efficient products and operating them efficiently.
So while the Ontario government may have backed away from taking a leading role in setting energy efficiency standards, you can still become an informed buyer and make wise choices for yourself.