The Presidency conclusions of the European Council of 8-9 March, 2007, emphasized the need to increase energy efficiency to achieve the Union’s objective of saving 20% of its energy consumption and reducing 20% of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The Council called for a thorough and rapid implementation of the key areas of the Commission’s 2006 ‘Action Plan for Energy Efficiency: Realising the Potential,’ which highlighted the enormous energy savings opportunities in the products sector. It was against this backdrop that the Commission proposed to recast the Energy Labeling Directive and the Ecodesign Directive to strengthen the provisions of both framework directives and to extend their product scope. Whereas the 1992 Energy Labelling Directive covered only household appliances, the 2005 Ecodesign Directive was limited to energy-using products. Both Directives now apply to all energy-related products.
While the Ecodesign Directive establishes a framework for the setting of ecodesign requirements for energy related products, which ensures that the poorest, least energy efficient products are removed from the market, the Energy Labelling Directive is a framework directive that mandates the European Commission to adopt labeling requirements for specific energy related products to promote the market uptake of the most efficient products available and suppliers to continuously improve the energy performance of their product offerings. The Energy Labelling Directive together with the Ecodesign Directive forms part of a broader European legal framework, which in the context of a holistic approach to product policy, is expected to bring about additional energy savings and environmental gains.
The Energy Labelling Directive and Delegated Acts
The Energy Labelling Directive provides a mandate for the Commission to adopt delegated acts for the indication by labeling and standard product information of the consumption of energy and other resources by energy-related products during use. It requires the Commission to adopt such measures for products which have i) a significant potential for energy savings, and, where relevant, other resources, and, ii) a wide disparity of relevant performance levels for equivalent functionalities. A technical, environmental and economic analysis (most commonly referred to as a “Preparatory Study”) followed by an impact assessment must conclude that both conditions are fulfilled before an energy labeling proposal for a specific product or product group can be put forward.
To date, the Commission has adopted four delegated acts for labeling: Televisions will be labeled for the first time; whereas for household refrigerating appliances, washing machines and dishwashers the proposals represent a revision of the label design. The entry into force of the Commission Delegated Acts or Regulations is subject to the right of objection of the European Parliament (EP) and the European Council of Member States (Council). The EP and Council have two months to object to the proposals. The two-month period can be extended with an additional two months if the institutions can justify that they need more time to review.
Information plays a key role in the operation of free markets, such as the European Union, by making it more transparent and reducing the time consumers have to spend on gathering product information necessary for their purchasing decision. A successful energy labeling scheme includes an energy label that effectively communicates easily understood information to consumers in a transparent manner and conveys it in such as way that it encourages consumers to use it for the purpose of product choice and motivates manufacturers to put ever more efficient products on the market.
The Energy Label
According to the Energy Labelling Directive, the energy label should allow consumers to easily identify the appliances that consume the least amount of energy, be it in the shop, in mail order catalogues, or online retail outlets.
The EU energy label is a comparative label. Initially it had seven energy classes ranging from A-G, A being the most efficient label class. The A-G classes should still be used the first time a product is being labelled, which is the case for televisions. The introduction of the labeling scheme in the mid-nineties has triggered considerable technological development, and the A class for currently labelled products include a very wide disparity of performance levels – around 80% or above of these products sold on the European market are now A-rated leaving little room for any product differentiation based on efficiency improvements. Rather than rescaling the energy classification, to allow consumers to better distinguish and differentiate the most efficient products from the less efficient ones, the EU opted for adding extra energy classes to the existing scale. For products such as household refrigerators and freezers, washing machines and dishwashers, which have been labelled for more than 10 years, the new labeling system allows up to three additional energy classes (A+, A++ and A+++) to be added on the top of class A.
Symbols or pictograms replace descriptive text in the new energy label design to make it more language neutral. For dishwashers for example, symbols for “water use per annum”, “drying efficiency class”, “capacity, in terms of number of place settings” and “noise” are included. Energy use per cycle is no longer included in the label. See the respective proposals for Commission Delegated Acts for depictions of and more information on the symbols used in the various labels. The four labeling proposals and the images of the new energy label designs can be found here.
Television label: A new label
The initial compulsory layout of the television label should use the A-G scale, but if a manufacturer achieves a better ranking, e.g. ‘A+’, this ranking may be shown on the label. The compulsory format will be upgraded in three-year intervals in 2014, 2017 and 2020, and the additional energy efficiency classes ‘A+’, ‘A++’, ‘A+++’, respectively have to be added to the label and the colour code of a particular efficiency class is ‘downgraded’. However, the energy efficiency ranking of a particular model remains unchanged. The television label can never have more than seven classes, which means class G is removed when A+ is added, and class F is removed when A++ is added, and so on. The energy efficiency classes should be based on the Energy Efficiency Index provided for in the Commission Delegated Regulation.
Refrigerating appliance label: Revision of an existing label
Refrigerators, freezers, and their combinations, were the first appliance product group to be labelled in Europe, the Directive was adopted in 1994 and labels appeared on products on the shop floor in 1995. To account for rapid market transformation and the increasing market share of A-rated products, ‘A+’ and ‘A++’ classes were added in 2003 to allow consumers to identify the most energy efficient models and provide manufacturers of these with a means to differentiate them from less efficient models. In contrast to the television label which will have no more than seven energy classes, for refrigerating appliances the label can have up to 10 classes, from ‘G’ to ‘A+++’. The initial energy efficiency class requirements will be tightened in 2014, but only for the ‘A+’ and ‘A’ classes. For all other classes the efficiency index remains unchanged.
Household dishwashers: Revision of an existing label
Ninety percent of household dishwashers on the market today are A-rated, while there is still potential for energy efficiency improvements. For dishwashers energy efficiency classes from ‘A+++’ to ‘D’ have been proposed, and ‘A’ to ‘G’ classes for drying efficiency.
Washing machines: Revision of an existing label
As with dishwashers, 90% of household washing machines on today’s market are A-rated, while a potential for energy efficiency improvements also still exists for this product group. For washing machines too energy efficiency classes from ‘A+++’ to ‘D’ have been proposed, and ‘A’ to ‘G’ classes for spin-drying efficiency. Pictograms appearing on the label indicate “energy use in kWh per annum”, “water use per annum”, “capacity in terms of kilo of laundry”, “spin-cycle class”, and “noise emissions in dB” for both cycles.
 Council DIR 92/75/EEC of 22 September 1992 on the indication by labeling and standard product information of the consumption of energy and other resources by household appliances.
 Energy related products are defined as those products having a direct or indirect impact on the consumption of any forms of energy during use and encompass both energy-using appliances and equipment and energy-related products such as windows, insulation, water taps, which have significant potential to save energy in use or when installed.
 Adopted on 28 September 2010, see here.