For people purchasing new appliances, energy efficiency is one of the most important considerations–not only for the purpose of preserving the environment, but also for reducing energy bills . Since 1992, the Environmental Protection Agency has been granting Energy Star labels to the most efficient consumer products to help Americans use less energy. In 2010, the program weathered a storm of controversy when auditors tested the certification system by submitting ridiculous products that never existed except on paper. The self-certifying system failed the test when it accepted things like a gas-powered alarm clock the size of a washing machine. But, after reform, the program has been steadily improving, and the logo is still influential to 91% of consumers and the overall movement to reduce energy usage.
The latest threat to the Energy Star program is not internal mistakes. Instead, it’s the collaboration of two lawmakers and Whirlpool, a major manufacturer accused of carrying an unmerited Energy Star label on some of its products. After several companies with Energy Star certifications were found not to deserve the labels – in many cases, models they submitted to the E.P.A. had more efficient designs or raw materials than the models that actually went on the market – those companies, including Whirlpool, were hit with class-action lawsuits. Now, Whirlpool says it will leave Energy Star if Congress does not pass legislation to protect companies from the lawsuits. Congressman Robert Latta, whose district hosts several Whirlpool factories, has introduced a bill that would ban the lawsuits if the E.P.A. issued a decision to deal with products that didn’t deserve the seal, such as voluntary reimbursement of customers. Congressman Peter Welch, who is a member along with Whirlpool of industry-supported group Alliance to Save Energy, is co-sponsoring the bill.
But it’s clear that the legislation is intended to protect companies from accountability, rather than provide real benefits to the program, consumers, or the cause of energy efficiency. As CU’s Shannon Baker-Branstetter points out, “Consumers are not represented in EPA’s negotiations with manufacturers on what the proper consumer recourse should be when a product is disqualified.” Without class-action lawsuits, consumers would have few options to deal with a manufacturer who misrepresents a product under the trusted Energy Star label. The new legislation would remove the layer of consumer protection the courts give the program. And because the E.P.A. can’t be everywhere at once, the accountability for misleading the public with a non-compliant product would be reduced overall. As Baker-Branstetter says, “Consumers should have recourse if they rely on the Energy Star label and the product doesn’t deliver.”
1 = lowest cost; 51 = highest cost
green = low cost; red = highest cost
Energy costs can spike in the summer time, when many people would probably rather sit inside and crank up the A/C. But for some states, that cost is significantly higher than others. Wallet Hub decided to compile data from all of the states to determine the energy cost that individual consumers incur. The above graphic scales states from the best to worse in terms of energy cost. The greener states denote lower cost while redder states mean higher. They are also numerically ranked, with “1″ meaning the lowest cost and “51″ meaning the highest cost. Their are 51 counted entities with the District of Columbia included.
One metric they determined is the “Total Energy Cost,” which is the sum of monthly electricity cost, monthly natural gas cost and monthly fuel cost. They then ranked states from cheapest to most expensive for total energy cost. Topping the list for cheapest states was Colorado, followed by Washington and Montana. The most expensive are Connecticut, Mississippi and Hawaii coming in at 49, 50 and 51 respectively.
A couple of noteworthy facts about energy usage: while total energy cost are among the highest in the American Southeast and Southwest (generally hotter states), the American Northeast is also plagued by high energy cost. West Coast states California, Oregon and Washington keep their total energy cost lower.
The report also gives a more nuanced look of energy consumption and cost across a broad range of metrics. This includes highest fuel consumption per driver, which was Oklahoma, and the lowest being Alaska.
There are many ways consumers can save on their energy bills. Small changes like using LED or CFL light bulbs, having the correct sized pot on a stove, and replacing windows in your home can save hundreds of dollars over the course of a year. Buying hybrid or electric cars will not only reduce your carbon footprint, but also how much you spend on gas.
For more energy saving tips, see what Consumer Reports, the Alliance to Save Energy and the Department of Energy all have to say.
You can read the entire report here.
The Department of Defense (DoD) plans on making significant investments in renewable energy sources, according to a report released by the Clean Energy Pipeline. Over the course of the next decade, the DoD intends to draw a quarter of its total energy usage from renewable sources, by 2025.
Clean Energy Pipeline, an independent-online publisher centered on clean-energy technologies and businesses, remarks that every branch of the DoD is committed to this significant investment in renewable technology. The Army began contracting different organizations to help facilitate this change in energy consumption habits, through multiple financial awards based on project-specific contracts known as “task orders.”
This move towards renewable technology for the DoD is based far more on utilitarian goals than environmental or humanitarian reasons. Renewable technology allows for an on-site production of energy, where as fossil fuels require infrastructural investments and remote power plants, which are unreliable due to risks of cyber attacks and natural disasters. Cost is also reduced because of the long-term nature of many of these contracts, which helps to hedge against price volatility in the energy marketplace.
The DoD is the largest single energy consumer in the world, with an annual energy budget of $20 billion. Therefore, its decision regarding renewable energy is landmark in terms of comprehensiveness, cost, and broader implications. The DoD’s decision to shift its consumption habits may or may not mark whether or not other federal agencies will follow suit, but it is definitely a positive direction for the future of renewable energy investment.
The full report can be read here]]>
In a surprising turn of events, it turns out when the government helps makes products more affordable, more people actually buy them. That would seem to be what the data regarding electric car purchases in California would support.
The California Clean Vehicle Rebate Project set out in 2012 to provide subsidies to those who purchased clean-energy/electric vehicles, with maximum awards of $2,500 for zero-emission vehicles or $1,500 for plug-in hybrids. The EV Driver Survey Dashboard asked purchasers what the most important determining factors were when making these new car purchases. More than two-thirds surveyed cited the subsidies and subsequent tax credits received from buying a new car as “very important” or “extremely important.” Other high rating factors include saving money on fuel and lowering their environmental foot print.
It is clear that consumers have a desire to own clean-energy vehicles. The issue at hand is creating avenues of access that will allow for consumers to overcome the cost of purchasing these vehicles. California has created a program that puts both consumers and the environment first. California is directly investing in their consumers, by creating a model that incentivizes purchases that directly benefit the environment. Those same purchases then benefit the consumer, with lower cost upfront at the purchase of the vehicle, and then by lowering the long term cost of gas purchases. California has proved itself as an ally to both the environment and the consumer.
Check on this link for details]]>
Tesla Motors has carved a very unique niche for their company, as they attempt to be the premier luxury all-electric sports car brand. Now however, anyone can access the technologies that use in their products. The motor company has open sourced the patents for their battery technology in the hopes that it will spur more companies to take up the electric car cause and innovate.
There exists rational business sense to share their patent design. They are hoping that the number of companies creating electric battery recharging stations will increase in frequency as more electric cars are on the road. This would lower the cost of Tesla as being the sole constructor of such places. Moreover, the company hopes that individual innovators of their battery design will feel more inclined to join their company without the fear of having their designs simply gobbled up by a large car corporation.
Tesla is making innovation a business plan rather than a luxury. When companies compete, consumers win. Open sourcing is a fantastic development for the all-electric car market. Car companies will hopefully attempt to improve upon the Tesla battery, improving it with small or drastic changes, and provide better products to consumers. This will result in more choice and less cost for consumers.
Check out this link to learn more
Monday, June 2, 2014
Consumers Union on EPA’s Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution, other emissions from power plants
WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today unveiled its Clean Power Plan, which seeks to reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s existing power plants by 30 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2030.
Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports, has advocated for reforms to reduce harmful air pollution in order to improve public health. Today’s proposal by EPA would establish new standards that would significantly reduce carbon pollution as well as pollutants that lead to soot and smog.
George Slover, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, said, “We are pleased that the EPA is taking these steps to reduce carbon and other emissions from power plants. Consumers will benefit tremendously from cleaner air as well as more efficient delivery of power to their homes. The EPA’s proposal is appropriately measured, working with states and building on existing efforts, to set meaningful goals while providing enough flexibility for power plants and consumers to use all practical means to help reduce emissions. We look forward to working with EPA and others during the comment period to ensure that the proposal is tailored to fulfill these important objectives while maximizing consumer benefits.”
Contact: David Butler, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Kara Kelber, email@example.com,202-462-6262.]]>
Highlights from the report demonstrate many positive developments:
Boosting fuel economy saves consumers real money on their fuel bills and drives alternative technologies that carry even lower fuel costs. The new report also shows that across vehicle types, consumers have an increasing number of high fuel economy choices
Nearly every manufacturer increased fuel economy in MY 2012. Daimler, Honda, Mazda, and Ford posted the biggest improvement from MY 2011 to MY 2012. The wide range of vehicle choices and technologies being deployed and growing consumer appetite for greater fuel economy are likely to continue.
Rapid deployment of new technologies in gasoline powered vehicles and alternative fuel technologies are further increasing consumer choice.
Supported by these trends and the growth of vehicles that already meet 2025 CAFE standards, the MY 2017-2025 fuel economy and carbon emission standards are well within reach.]]>
New Survey Finds Many Households Can Use Electric Vehicles
4 out of 10 Households Can Switch With Little or No Change to Driving Habits
WASHINGTON (Dec. 11, 2013) — Four out of 10 households could use an electric vehicle with little or no change to their driving habits and vehicle needs, according to a national survey released by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Consumers Union.
While less than 1 percent of the country are driving electric vehicles (EVs) today, the survey found 42 percent of respondents with cars – equivalent to 45 million households when applied nationally — meet the basic criteria for using plug-in hybrid electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt. Over half of those households are also able to use a battery-electric vehicle (BEV) like the Nissan LEAF.
“Consumers who might be shopping for a new vehicle this holiday season may be surprised to learn that an electric vehicle could be a good fit for their household,” said Josh Goldman, policy analyst for the UCS Clean Vehicles Program. “Drivers may have preconceptions about whether electric vehicles can meet their driving needs and habits, and this survey shows that for many, they can.”
To view a detailed infographic about the report’s findings, click here.
While plug-in hybrid EVs have similar driving range to gasoline-only vehicles, the current range of BEVs on the market today can also meet many driver’s needs. The survey found that almost 70 percent of drivers drive less than 60 miles on a weekday, which is within the range of almost every BEV on the market today.
“This new survey shows today’s EVs can be practical for many car buyers,” Shannon Baker-Branstetter, policy counsel for Consumers Union. “It demonstrates that these vehicles could be a viable option for tens of millions of American households that want lower fuel costs and cleaner air without compromising their driving needs.”
If everyone that could switch to driving on electricity did so today, the nation would:
Survey respondents met the basic criteria for using a typical plug-in hybrid EV available today if they have access to parking and an electrical outlet at home or work, need to carry less than 5 occupants, and do not need hauling or towing capability. A BEV was considered suitable when these criteria were met and maximum weekday driving distance did not exceed 60 miles and, in the case where weekend driving frequently exceeded current BEV vehicle range, other household vehicles were available.
The results of the survey not only indicate that millions of households could utilize an EV today, but also show how that figure could grow in the future. The survey found that 33 percent of respondents did not have access to parking with an electrical outlet, but met the other basic criteria for owning a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. In addition, more than a third, 37 percent, agreed that having access to charging at the workplace would increase the likelihood of considering an EV in their next vehicle purchase.
While incentives which lower the cost of purchasing an electric vehicle will continue to be a key strategy in supporting a growing market for electric vehicles, these findings suggest that efforts to increase access to vehicle charging options at home and workplace can also help make EVs a more likely choice for vehicle buyers.
The survey found 65 percent of Americans think electric vehicles are an essential part of our nation’s transportation future for reducing oil use and global warming pollution, with 60 percent saying they would consider owning one themselves. State policymakers are taking notice of consumer interest and the potential for increased use of EVs, with eight governors recently announcing a joint plan to put 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on America’s roads by 2025.
“There is a huge potential to continue expanding the market for electric vehicles, a key solution for tackling climate change and cutting our nation’s projected oil use in half over the next 20 years,” said David Reichmuth, senior engineer for the UCS Clean Vehicles Program. “Americans recognize that we need to reduce our oil use, and electric vehicles offer a great opportunity for drivers to do just that.”
The telephone survey was conducted among 1,004 randomly selected adults over 18 years of age and carried out over September 26 to September 30. Of all the respondents, 914 had at least one vehicle and were surveyed on driving and parking behaviors. All respondents were asked about attitudes toward electric vehicles. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level for questions asked of all respondents and +/- 3.2 percentage points for questions applied to vehicle owners.
The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet’s most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe and sustainable future. For more information, go to www.ucsusa.org.
Consumers Union is the public policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports. Consumers Union works for telecommunications reform, health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues. Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website, and other publications.
Consumers Union urges EPA to act quickly on Tier 3 rule
WASHINGTON — Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports, today wrote the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to urge quick action to finalize the “Tier 3″ rule to lower sulfur in gasoline and reduce vehicle tailpipe emissions. A variety of health, environmental, and consumer groups are pressing the agency to take action before the end-of-2013 deadline to ensure the rules are implemented starting in 2017 as planned.
In a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, CU policy counsel Shannon Baker-Branstetter wrote, “Cleaner gasoline and vehicles are within reach, but every year they are delayed, more Americans needlessly suffer from preventable air pollution. Exposure to air pollution from vehicles is widespread, and reducing sulfur in gasoline and cutting tailpipe emissions will provide tremendous benefits to public health. Living, working, or going to school near major roadways increases exposure to ozone and particle pollution that worsens lung and heart health and causes thousands of premature deaths every year.”
CU is urging the EPA to finalize the rule as soon as possible, not only to avoid delay of the rule’s health benefits, but also so that Tier 3 implementation begins in 2017, so automakers can reduce compliance costs by harmonizing technology selection and development for the Tier 3 standards and Model Year 2017-2025 greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards already in place.
CU collected more than 31,000 signatures in support of the rule. See below for the full text of the letter:
November 4, 2013
The Honorable Gina McCarthy
Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20460
Dear Administrator McCarthy:
Consumers Union, the advocacy and policy division of Consumer Reports, urges the Environmental Protection Agency to promptly finalize the “Tier 3” rule to lower sulfur in gasoline and reduce vehicle tailpipe emissions. Consumers Union collected 31,068 signatures in support of this rule (submitted as part of our comments to the proposed rule), and we are eager to see the final rule implemented as quickly as possible. Cleaner gasoline and vehicles are within reach, but every year they are delayed, more Americans needlessly suffer from preventable air pollution.
Exposure to air pollution from vehicles is widespread, and reducing sulfur in gasoline and cutting tailpipe emissions will provide tremendous benefits to public health. Over 130 million Americans (more than 40% of the country) breathe unhealthy air, and a major source of this pollution is passenger and heavy-duty vehicles. On average, Americans spend over an hour traveling along roads every day. Time spent in the car (especially in congested traffic) increases pollutant exposure, and cars provide little protection against gas-phase pollutants (especially VOCs). Living, working, or going to school near major roadways increases exposure to ozone and particle pollution that worsens lung and heart health and causes thousands of premature deaths every year.
Time is also of the essence because addressing sulfur levels in gasoline and vehicles together as a “system” further improves the cost-effectiveness of reducing emissions, and it allows automakers to maximize efficiencies in emission reduction technologies. Consumers Union urges the EPA to finalize this rule as soon as possible, not only to avoid delay of the rule’s health benefits, but also so that Tier 3 implementation begins in 2017. Thereby, automakers can reduce compliance costs by harmonizing technology selection and development for the Tier 3 standards and Model Year 2017-2025 greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards.
Although the proposed rule has clearly identified costs, pollution has costs of much greater magnitude. According to analyses by the EPA and by independent economists, when the standards are fully implemented by 2025, they will likely add less than $150 to the cost of a vehicle and less than 1 cent per gallon to gasoline costs. According to EPA’s own impact analysis, average costs of hospital care due to pollution-related illness alone range from $400 for an emergency room visit to $12,000 for a hospital admission for asthma and from $11,000 to $30,000 to treat other respiratory and heart conditions. Such admissions can be especially expensive or fraught with complications for the elderly or those with other health problems. By 2030, the annual health benefits of Tier 3 would be between $8 and $23 billion (double to seven times the costs). All polluting sectors should contribute their fair share to reducing pollution, and Tier 3 standards are one of the more economical and cost-effective ways to get meaningful reductions to help make air safe to breathe.
It would be “pennywise, tons foolish” to save a cent on gasoline, only to have to pay even more with our health as a result of additional tons of pollution. To put the cost in perspective, over the last four years, gasoline prices fluctuated over $2.25 dollars per gallon, with weekly increases of 10 cents happening with regularity.
In summary, this common-sense rule can deliver enormous public health benefits, and can be implemented at an affordable cost. We urge the EPA to finalize the rule before the end of this year, so it can apply to 2017 models and sync with 2017-2025 greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards. We thank you for your attention to this important consumer and public health issue.
Policy Counsel, Consumers Union
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