Energy Labeling Protocols for External Power Supplies Will Keep Getting Tougher and Reaching Further

Jeff Schnabel, VP of Global Marketing, CUI


Energy-performance standards for high-tech products can become more effective

Figure 1. Authorities worldwide have adopted EPS energy-labeling protocols, and introduced stricter targets with each subsequent revision.

Recent delays in the introduction of mandatory energy-performance standards should not be interpreted as a slackening in the pace of regulatory change.

Energy-performance standards for high-tech products can become more effective in helping protect the planet by being more broadly adopted worldwide and by setting higher targets through successive revisions. Governments seeking practical ways to meet pledges on combating climate change are continually tightening and extending the rules applicable to buildings and lighting, automobiles, IT equipment, domestic appliances and more, to save energy costs and cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The evolution of international regulations on external power supplies (EPS) for home and office electrical equipment provides a perfect illustration. In the early ’90s, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the first voluntary codes in response to academic research highlighting the energy wasted by these devices. Since then, the US Department of Energy (DOE) and other authorities throughout the rest of the world have published specifications aimed at raising the average energy efficiency in active modes and minimizing the power dissipated in standby – sometimes called “vampire power”. The California Energy Commission became the first official body to impose mandatory energy-performance standards, in 2004.

Taking Turns to Raise the Bar

The targets for minimum efficiency and maximum standby power differ slightly from territory to territory. However, the majority of developed nations now have energy-labeling criteria in place, and are all moving in the same direction by raising the performance requirements as each revision is published. This can be done in several ways, most obviously by increasing the minimum acceptable average efficiency – usually calculated from the mean of efficiency measurements taken at 25%, 50%, 75%, and full load – or by reducing the maximum allowable standby power. Other ways to tighten the regulations include stipulating additional efficiency measurements at specified points in the load range. This can ensure a more accurate representation of real-world performance, and discourage EPS manufacturers from optimizing their products purely to pass laboratory tests. Legislators can also extend the scope of regulations to cover power supplies for a wider range of uses.

The development of the European Commission’s Code of Conduct (CoC) for EPS manufacturers provides a case in point. The Commission’s Joint Research Center (JRC), responsible for preparing the CoC, calculates its measures can save as much as 5 TWh of standby power, and a similar quantity of active power, every year. By studying the history of energy labeling protocols as applied to external power supplies (figure 1), we can see that the European regulations tend to leapfrog those set by the US DOE. When the DOE published its Level VI framework, the EU introduced CoC Tier 1 as a voluntary code that specified comparable but slightly more demanding targets. Similarly, when the DOE Level VI specifications became mandatory from February 2016, the EU upped the ante again by raising the bar further with CoC Tier 2 that introduced an additional minimum efficiency target at 10% of full load. State-sponsored one-upmanship? Perhaps, but the real benefit is that appliances in use today are burning up considerably less energy than their predecessors, even though engineers usually also manage to cram in more features to improve the user experience.

The EU could already be planning new limitsthat are even tougher than those in CoC Tier 2. According to the Review Study on Commission Regulation (EC) NO. 278/2009 External Power Supplies (link below), prepared by Danish consultants Viegand Maagø for the European Commission, the combined effects of stricter and wider measures could save up to another 3TWh per year by 2025.

Let’s consider the philosophy that drives the CoC framework. Because the codes are introduced on a voluntary basis for manufacturers, it is reasonable to set higher performance targets than would be feasible in a mandatory framework. This can incentivize leading companies to drive technological progress at a fast pace, to gain advantages by differentiating their products from those of competitors and to strengthen their reputation in the marketplace. End users, and the environment, benefit through faster reductions in utility bills and GHG emissions. As a committed developer of power-conversion products, including external power supplies, CUI has successfully introduced products covering a wide rangeof power ratings and sizes, which comply with both CoC Tier 1 and Tier 2 specifications.

A Chance to Get Ahead?

The EU has made clear its intention to mandate these voluntary codes, once they are established and the technologies needed to meet them have been proven. However, although both of these protocols should have become mandatory by now - Tier 1 in 2017, and Tier 2 in January 2018 - neither milestone has been met. Today, each remains as a voluntary code, yet to become enforceable legislation. What does this mean for the industry, and for the world? As far as we at CUI are concerned, there is no change in terms of what we do, or our commitment to continuously improving the energy efficiency of our products. Striving to comply with the latest CoC specifications, while they are voluntary codes, means we are already prepared for the transition into law, whenever that may happen.

The exact reason for the delay in legislation may not be known, but we can be sure that the CoC Tier 1 and eventually Tier 2 limits will become law at some time in the near future. EPS manufacturers cannot afford to relax, or assume that authorities are slackening the pace of regulatory advancement. We need to take up the technical challenges set by each new protocol as soon as it is published.

By always using power supplies that meet the latest and most stringent standards worldwide, OEMs that need to include an EPS in the box with each new product shipped can ensure compliance with the regulations in force in any geographic market, and avoid the complexity of having to manage multiple different product configurations.

The EU’s Tier 2 regulations may have slipped behind schedule from a legal point of view, but the technical pace shows no sign of slowing down.