The media has been taking the Department of Energy (DOE) to task over a recently released audit by the Inspector General (IG) which highlighted some well-documented shortcomings in the Energy Star program. The conclusions were not surprising -- there needs to be more testing of products to ensure compliance with Energy Star requirements and the efficiency levels required may be too weak.
The new DOE has vowed to take on these problems, and in fact the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and DOE, which jointly manage Energy Star, agreed to increased testing and quicker updates in a Memorandum of Understanding that was released a few weeks ago, actually before the IG report.
There isn't any real reason to lecture the agencies at this point, since they are addressing the major issues and are moving forward. When you have a program like Energy Star that has been saving energy and putting money in consumers' pockets for decades, it is better late than never. And the bottom line is still the same -- you are much better off buying an Energy Star product than anything else. The agencies are now going to make sure you will save even more.
As part of the agreement, EPA will be taking the lead on all Energy Star specifications, which is a significant change. There are over 60 product categories that can earn Energy Star, meaning over 60 different decisions have to be made about what level of energy performance to require. Now, with the new agreement, it also means that there are at least 60 different markets to monitor so that the requirements can be changed if the market share of Energy Star grows to over 35%. That is a lot of work.
EPA also recently released their market share report for 2008 (PDF), and it shows that some products are already well over the 35% threshold and perhaps in need of a revision. This data is great for an advocate, as it tells you how the market is transitioning to more efficient products. Market share over 35% does likely mean Energy Star has become too easy, but it also might mean that energy could be saved with a new federal minimum standard.
If Energy Star has 90% market share, then the maximum level of efficiency that is "technically feasible and economically justified" (where federal standards must be set by DOE) is at least this high. If the market share is low, then incentives or education might be needed to encourage folks to invest in more efficient equipment. Lots of food for thought here.
A few numbers that jumped out at us: