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Does anyone still trust energy ratings?

The world was momentarily stunned when investigators discovered that software engineers at Volkswagen had rigged on-board software to detect and give false readings for emissions tests.  It soon transpired, however, that all vehicle manufacturers use tricks of one kind or another to generate fuel-efficiency and emissions readings far more flattering than anyone is going to get by driving their vehicles on an ordinary road.

Now, it turns out that several of the worlds’ leading television manufacturers have also been fixing their software to beat energy efficiency tests.  As Arthur Neslen at the Guardian reports:

“Independent tests in the US have found that the energy consumption of Samsung and LG TV sets nosedives under test conditions but can soar by up to 45% in real-world use, raising questions of manipulation by software devices.

“TVs from the top three best selling US brands – Samsung, LG and Vizio – have also been found to be switching off power-saving features without warning, as soon as consumers make “out of the box” changes to their main picture menu settings, which can double the TV sets’ energy usage.”

Although both the Volkswagen and the latest TV scandals have been treated in isolation by the mainstream media, the obvious point that is being missed is that energy efficiency is big business.  In the same way as millions of people are queuing up for electric cars today, millions switched to lean burn diesel cars – like the ones made by Volkswagen – precisely because they believed they were doing something to protect the environment.  Millions of us also check electrical goods like TVs to see that they are not consuming unnecessary energy.  Of course, there is often self-interest too; clearly low-energy also means cheaper running costs.

The problem is that most of the easy engineering solutions to curbing energy use in a host of consumer goods were secured as long ago as the early 1980s following the oil shocks in the 1970s.  Today, the gains are much smaller and involve much greater effort and expense to achieve.  And with governments around the world adopting ever tighter carbon reduction legislation, corporations have been struggling to maintain their rates of profit.

In this climate, it should hardly surprise us if clever software engineers discover that it is a lot cheaper to rig the software to produce flattering energy efficiency results than it is to actually engineer ever more efficient products.  In this climate, we might reasonably wonder whether the whole range of energy consuming products from fridges to microwaves and tumble dryers to toasters haven’t also been rigged to fool us into thinking they are far better for the environment than is really the case.

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