Just two years after the first solar water heaters received the Energy Star Label, they may loose it again. Right now, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is revising the label's Water Heater Specification. It has found that solar water heaters are not in line with the principle of the Energy Star label, because they do not pay off quickly enough. The solar thermal industry worries that loosing the label would become a serious drawback for the reputation of solar water heaters in the US. The final draft of the specification is expected in January and the final version is going to be published by February.
According to the Energy Star Label principles, long life products - such as solar water heaters - have to pay back their extra costs by saving an equal amount of energy in around five years. For solar water heaters, that turns out to be a problem: in most parts of the US, solar water heaters cannot meet this requirement, not even including federal tax credits. Abigail Daken from EPA explains: “We do not want to express at all that solar water heaters do not save energy. In fact, it is quite clear that they do. But EPA has stayed in line with very clear principles for the past 20 years and the value of the Energy Star Label for the customers is built on these principles.“
Calseia, the California Solar Energy Industries Association, writes in a comment letter to the EPA, which has been published on the Energy Star website: “Removing the Energy Star designation would likely have a deleterious effect on market acceptance of solar water heating systems. The Energy Star designation is one of a number of market development tools, which – when taken together – provide technology recognition and increased affordability. For example, a number of states have come to rely on Energy Star as a measure of energy efficiency and increased consumer protection. In the course of developing incentive programmes for renewable energy products, the Energy Star designation, coupled with solar energy system certification, increases the comfort level of renewable energy programme administrators.“
The Energy Star Label is the best-known eco label in the US and is financed by the federal government. It currently includes more than 60 product types. Another principle of the Energy Star programme is that customers should not sacrifice functionality or value for energy efficiency, which means products undergo economical viability, performance, safety and life time tests besides tests of energy efficiency. In the end, a product either receives the label or it does not – there is no energy performance rating for it. Participating in the Energy Star Label is voluntary for the manufacturers.
Recently the second draft for the Energy Star's Water Heater Specification has been posted on the EPA website. The site shows comments and objections by the industry and the EPA's replies. Daken says: “We are aware of the objections by the stakeholders.” She affirms that supporting solar water heaters is in the interest of the EPA, but the decision whether they will stay in the Energy Star programme has not been made yet.
Drafts and comments can be found on the Energy Star website: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=revisions.waterheaters_spec
This text was written by Eva Augsten, a German freelance journalist specialised in renewable energies (firstname.lastname@example.org).