Brussels targets super-sized TVs in drive for energy efficiency
The amount of energy that big screen TVs can use will be capped under an EU energy efficiency drive which the European commission expects will cut consumers' energy bills by around €8bn a year.
After similar energy-saving rules for vacuum cleaners provoked a storm of criticism from UK newspapers last autumn, the planned TV rules may be a test case for new 'ecodesign' formulas for kettles, toasters and hairdryers, due to be announced next year.
The new TV standards, which could come into effect as early as June 2016, would set more challenging energy use requirements for larger TV screens, which currently benefit from a ranking methodology that only measures internal components for energy efficiency.
The regulation would also affect computer monitors for the first time, increasingly used for watching television programmes, and be accompanied by a tightening of energy labels.
"We are very happy that this revision is at last being discussed and expect that the final decision will now be taken very quickly," said Stephane Arditi, the European Environmental Bureau's (EEB) products manager. "We particularly welcome the fact that it will be more demanding for bigger screens to reach the energy efficiency level, and the highest-classes on energy labels."
TV manufacturers' associations said that they were still consulting their members before commenting. But a bigger ecodesign battle is already brewing.
A more wide-ranging report into new product ranges considered ripe for energy savings should be completed by mid-December, ready for release in early 2015.
The new commission's first vice president Frans Timmermans has been sceptical about ecodesign rules for vacuum cleaners in the past, describing them as "paternalistic", and that has alarmed environmentalists.
"We fear that every domestic appliance identified - hair dryers, toasters and kettles - could in the coming months be removed from the work plan to avoid political controversy," Arditi said. "That would deprive consumers of an energy label and most consumers do like them and refer to them when buying products."
The EEB says it is already concerned that the TV label classes proposed by 2020 will not be ambitious enough to prevent a market saturation of the highest energy label classes before then.
Under the new TV efficiency proposals, fewer large-screen TVs would gain the top-most ratings on the energy label scale which runs from G to A+++.
Televisions consume up to 10% of household electricity and that share has risen in the last decade, partly because of a market trend towards larger screens and extra-features like internet connectivity. But a tendency for consumers to watch more TV has also played a part.
According to the coolproducts campaign, European TVs now use as much energy as the combined residential electricity consumption of Sweden and Portugal combined.
An explanatory note that accompanies the commission's working paper, both seen by the Guardian, says that the proposed new standards would cut Europe's yearly 75 terrawatt hours (TWh) of electricity use by 42%, with a big payback for consumers - and the climate.
The paper says: "The savings potential is... estimated at 32TWh electricity (by 2020), 12 Mt (million tonnes) CO2 equivalent and €8bn in lowering the consumer energy bill. The savings potential in 2030 was estimated to reach 35 Twh, 13 Mt CO2 equivalent and almost €13bn."
Resource use requirements would also be sharpened to include mandatory mercury and brominated logos on products, and ensure that TV component parts are more recyclable, under the new rules.
Inefficient plasma TV screens - as opposed to the LED-backlit LCD screens which now make up much of the market - would be exempted from the initial ecodesign requirements on the basis that they are a dying product in need of a "reasonable final period for the termination of their market distribution".
Approximately 60-62m TVs and 16-17m computer monitors were sold in 2011 in the EU.