Voluntary or Mandatory, One More Time

Fri, 02/22/2008 - 12:22 -- MrGreen

June 14, 2007 – In many cases, power supply designers are being told by governments to make their power supplies more energy efficient, while in other cases, they’re being urged to do so. Either way—voluntary or mandatory—there are problems for the designer, but there are also benefits. Let’s look at both.

Do voluntary specifications really work?

Can manufacturers who make electronic products used by consumers (where an extra few cents of cost could be a product killer) be expected to make “green” a design priority? The answer appears to be yes, but it will happen slowly, over an extended period of time.

For example, the 80 Plus program for computers, which began in 2005 with one certified model, now lists on its website over 120 certified computer power supplies, including models by Dell and HP. Recent data presented by the EPA’s ENERGY STAR revealed that its EPS specification, initiated in 2005, has helped raise the average efficiency for external power supplies by up to 60%, based on units tested recently compared to those tested before the spec went into effect.

So, if voluntary programs work, why force feed manufacturers with mandatory standards?

The first reason is obvious—a quick market transformation. As long as the regulation’s specifications are reasonable and based on hard data, enough advance notice is given to manufacturers, and cost-effective efficiency enabling technology is readily available, things can move forward at a quick pace.

But not without a lot of discussion, of course. Attending the CEC’s stakeholder meetings last year on their EPS efficiency standards (which, by the way, basically mirrors ENERGY STAR’s EPS specs), I heard the Commissioners being warned of empty store shelves at Christmas and potentially unreliable products as a result of the standard. The CEC moved ahead anyhow, and I have not heard of any supply problems with the first products affected on January 1 of this year. If you know of a product having problems meeting the new regs, tell me about it.

Also, mandatory standards can actually protect manufacturers by leveling the playing field for all players. This fact was brought up loud and clear by Australian consumer electronics suppliers at last year’s standby energy conference Down Under. Without an efficiency standard that all suppliers have to meet, their concern was that the door would be left open for manufacturers who choose to ignore the regulations to swoop into a market with and energy wasting but lower cost products and take away sales from local suppliers who comply with voluntary standards..

Voluntary specifications versus mandatory standards—I’d like to hear what you think about this question and to share readers’ opinions with others. So leave a comment if you’ve got something to say on this topic.