Prospect of more energy regulations on cooking appliances divides opinion

By Tim Lince

Minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) are the energy-saving regulations that more than 20 electrical products have needed to abide by for over a decade now. The number of products being added to the list is going up at an accelerated rate, with eight added in the last four years alone.

With the Carbon Tax now written into law and the Federal Government clearly steadfast in its pledge to cut energy across Australia, there is no doubt that extra products will be added in the future – and ovens, both gas and electric, could be next.

"I don’t like how expensive it is for us,
but I do like how expensive it is for my competitors"
– David Gilmore, Glem Gas.

A spokesperson for the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency (DCCEE) said the main aim of MEPS is to “improve energy efficiency in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors”.

MEPS are part of the E3 Program, the Government’s equipment energy efficiency scheme, which started with energy rating labels on refrigerators and freezers in 1986. According to its website, the program will have a cumulative economic benefit of $22.4 billion by 2024 – and MEPS is the main policy tool in its arsenal.

There are 23 products that must abide by MEPS, starting with refrigerators and fridges in 1999, and air conditioners, fluorescent lights, electric motors, televisions, set-top boxes and a variety of other products have been added since.

Regulations differ for every product, and failure to comply with them could result in recalls, fines and more severe punishment in rare cases.

The DCCEE spokesperson added that the department will “continue to expand to cover additional products” and will also “increase the stringency of existing MEPS”.

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One product group not covered by MEPS is residential and commercial ovens, although the spokesperson stated that adding them “could be considered in the future”.

The admittance that ovens are not off the table could come as a shock to Terry Fogarty, technical and compliance manager at Fisher & Paykel, who said that he understood ovens were not being considered.

“Ovens have been repeatedly rejected by the Federal Government to be covered under MEPS because it would have no customer benefit,” he said. “I know a lot of European suppliers want ovens to be covered because they are already following similar standards in their home countries.”

One of those European suppliers is Glem Gas, based in Italy, and its Australasian general manager, David Gilmore, told us that “it wouldn’t be the worst news in the world” if MEPS were introduced for ovens.

“If these standards come in and it stops cheap Chinese knock offs, then that’s a good thing,” Gilmore said. “However, they need to relate to some kind of global standard. If the standards are stricter than the rest of the world, there is the risk that genuinely good products don’t come to Australia – the same thing has happened with cars, with many models and brands not coming here because of the strict standards compared to the rest of the world.”

Glem Gas has “spent a fortune” getting its gas oven products in line with the European Union Energy Label scheme, aiming to achieve the increasingly strict A+ rating.

“I think it’s an inevitability that something for ovens will come to Australia,” Gilmore speculates. “If you look at the list of products already required to meet MEPS, ovens are an obvious standout.”

Also, he claims, because a majority of electrical appliances currently comply with MEPS, “consumers are already asking about the ratings for ovens” and adds that he’s had “several calls from customers” asking how many stars an oven product has.

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This Glem Gas Monolith cooker is manufactured to meet Europe’s energy ratings, whereas many non-European brands don’t need to meet such stringent standards.

However, Fogarty disagrees that consumers are demanding energy-saving regulations because the quality of ovens in Australia is already high.

“People do not like ovens that throw heat around the room, and therefore the market is full of ovens that don’t do that,” he explains. “If a bad product, which wastes energy by throwing heat around the room, was released and took a decent market share, then the argument could be there for standards to be introduced – but that hasn’t happened and will not happen.”

Besides, he says, the similar European standards are an example on why it isn’t a good idea for Australia.

“Vents were blocked in certain oven products when minimum energy performance standards were introduced in Europe,” he said. “This meant the oven was given the shiny A+ grade, and made the customer feel good, but those ovens do not perform as well in their main function – cooking food.”

He explains that blocked vents, the main cause of wasted energy in oven products, means the moisture of some food products is not able to escape and therefore cannot ‘brown’ foods properly.

“Blocking vents and other workarounds to meet those energy performance standards may work alright for European food, and those consumers may not mind or notice the quality going down,” he states. “But we eat different foods here in Australia and New Zealand, and our ovens are designed for the local foods – for instance, we do food performance tests on thick steaks, and in Europe they cook steaks thinner than commonly available over here.”

Gilmore disagrees with this assertion, saying that “all gas ovens need a vent and these European standards, or any introduction of MEPS, will not stop that”.

Fogarty had further problems with MEPS, and said he’s had “big arguments with figures in the Federal Government” about the issue.

“To provide a benefit to consumers, you need to be able to enforce the standards – and this is not happening,” he claims. “It costs us thousands of dollars to test the MEPS, and then costs the government thousands more to test too – and if something is off, even slightly, then it costs us thousands more to get back to standards that have often tiny or no effect for the consumer.”

Gilmore agrees with this point, although adds: “I’m torn – I don’t like how expensive it is for us, but I do like how expensive it is for my competitors.”

Fogarty concludes that, no matter what his many negatives thoughts are on MEPS, he acknowledges that they are good at informing the customer on energy usage.

“However, expensive and strict standards do not need to be placed on products to educate the consumer,” he said. “Educational labels should be the first step to encourage users to moderate their energy consumption, and MEPS should be an absolute last resort.”

A version of this article first appeared in Appliance Retailer magazine.

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