HC Deb 12 July 1989 vol 156 cc996-8 4.52 pm
Mr. Malcolm Moss (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to introduce compulsory labelling of all domestic electrical appliances and devices to indicate the amount of energy that they consume; to impose penalties upon manufacturers and retailers who fail to provide such labelling; and for connected purposes. One of the most surprising results of recent opinion polls on the environment was that in The Times, in which 12 million people said that they were prepared to pay substantial premiums for "environmentally friendly" products.

Without question, one of the most significant environmental problems facing the planet today is that of global warming, or the so-called greenhouse effect. While in no way would I wish to pre-empt the report of the Select Committee on Energy on the linkage between energy and the greenhouse effect, many facts pertaining to that phenomenon are already in the public domain.

It is generally agreed that about 50 per cent. of the contribution to greenhouse gases is made by carbon dioxide gas—the rest is made by methane, CFCs, nitrous oxide and surface ozone. At the Toronto meeting of world experts last June to consider the threats posed by changes to the global atmosphere, it was agreed that substantial global reductions of carbon dioxide emissions would be necessary over the next 40 years.

The United Kingdom production of carbon dioxide is 542 million tonnes a year, of which 205 million tonnes—about 38 per cent.—are produced by generating electricity, mainly from coal-fired power stations. To emphasise the direct link between electricity and carbon dioxide emissions, I shall take the simple example of a 100W light bulb. When lit for 10 hours, it produces 1 kg of carbon dioxide. Over the average lifetime of 1,000 hours, 10 such light bulbs would produce 1 tonne of carbon dioxide. If we continue much as we have in the past, carbon dioxide output is likely to increase by more than 100 million tonnes—20 per cent.—by the year 2005. Any reduction, therefore, in electricity consumption will have a direct effect on carbon dioxide emissions and help to combat the greenhouse effect.

At a time of economic growth—both actual and predicted—demand is more likely to increase than decrease. The options are consequently rather limited and range between fuel substitution—that is, substituting gas for coal in our power stations—more nuclear power, which produces no carbon dioxide, and more energy conservation and efficiency.

The opportunities for improvements in energy efficiency lie in four main areas. First, the generation of electricity could be improved. It is worth noting that, for every 1,000 MW of coal-fired capacity replaced by renewable or nuclear generation, there is a reduction of 6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is 3 per cent. of our total electricial sector emissions. Secondly, we could improve electrical motors, which is by far the largest single category in industry. Thirdly, we could improve lighting. Fluorescent light bulbs are already available in this country that reduce the running costs of lighting and the consumption of electricity by a factor of 80 per cent.

Fourthly, by the use of the correct electrical appliances, there is potential for a reduction in electrical consumption.

There are wide differences in electrical consumption between appliances available in this country. A closer look at the differences between appliances reveals some remarkable figures. The average United Kingdom stock of refrigerators will each consume about 1,100 kW hours per year, but the best available mass produced refrigerator consumes only 180 kW hours per year, which is a reduction of 80 per cent. The same figures are true for freezers. For washing machines and dishwashers, the energy saving is 50 per cent.

Those machines are manufactured in Canada, the United States, Japan, West Germany and Denmark. I point especially to the latter two producers, because, come 1992, I can see that we will have considerable competition for appliance imports from those sources.

It has been postulated that if each household replaced current appliances with the best available, annual running costs would reduce by 75 per cent. Such a reduction in electricity consumption on electrical appliances alone would cut the United Kingdom's carbon dioxide output by almost 6 per cent.

It is generally agreed that no one policy option alone can ensure the necessary reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. The Toronto conference suggested 20 per cent. reductions by the year 2003. However, in a recent paper to Ministers, Mr. Ken Currie, of the energy technology supply unit, said that the Toronto targets were going to be very difficult to achieve.

The debate raging at present—manifested in the amendment to the Electricity Bill before their Lordships—is whether or not the newly privatised electricity supply industry gives sufficient powers to the Secretary of State or the director general to ensure changes in energy efficiency practice that will make progress towards a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. The Bill states categorically that the director general will have powers to promote energy efficiency, but it stops short of ideas such as "least cost planning" and any fiscal measures.

According to Mr. Currie, energy efficiency offers on paper the greatest scope in combating global warming through carbon dioxide emissions. However, despite great economic and technical potential for improved efficiency, it is very difficult to make it happen. The reasons are that it requires very large numbers of small and disaggregated actions—every light bulb in every home, so to speak; those actions are peripheral to the interests of many consumers; there is a slow turnover in equipment and buildings; and the problem is exacerbated by market imperfections, such as the lack of specific and unbiased information for the users.

I submit that it would be irresponsible not to make a start somewhere to break into this somewhat vicious circle, and where better than in the task of educating the public, as responsible consumers, by providing better information on energy efficiency? As a first step, we could introduce an energy efficiency labelling scheme for electrical appliances, which is exactly what my Bill attempts to do.

At present it is impossible to discover in the showroom or in the literature whether an appliance is efficient. A simple labelling scheme would give customers such information and would allow them to take energy and environmenal effects into account at the time of purchase. Schemes have been tried in the United Kingdom— unfortunately, unsuccessfully. John Lewis undertook a scheme for fridges and a pilot scheme was undertaken by Eastern electricity under the guidance of the Energy Efficiency Office. Ecological labelling has been a feature in many other countries. Consider, for example, the success of the Blue Angel scheme in West Germany. Currently, Ministers of the Department of Trade and Industry and of the Department of the Environment are discussing a green labelling scheme for this country. Labelling is not therefore a new concept for the country or the Government.

To be effective, labelling must not be over-regulatory or nit-picking. There is little point in using labels on those appliances where the difference in operating costs is minimal—for example, on microwave ovens, televisions, clothes dryers and home-heating equipment. Labelling would be of little use on those appliances that have small electricity consumption—for example, toasters and blenders.

Labelling therefore must be concentrated on those major appliances that have the most significant differences in electricial consumption—refrigerators, fridge-freezers, freezers, water heaters, washing machines, dishwashers and room air conditioners. Successful appliance labelling schemes are in operation in Germany, Australia and in the United States, which has by far the most comprehensive scheme.

The three essential characteristics of a good labelling scheme would be simple and clear presentation, relevant and understandable information and attractive, eye-catching design. My Bill would make it compulsory for manufacturers and retailers to label their electrical appliances to a standard and a regularised format. There would be three types of label, along the lines of the American model. First, an energy cost label would apply to fridges, freezers, water heaters and washing machines. That would show the actual electricity consumption, the estimated annual cost to operate based on average electricity prices, and the range of operating costs of competing brands of similar size and features. Secondly, there would be a generic label for boilers and furnaces; and, thirdly, an energy efficient rating label that would apply to air-conditioning equipment. The labels would have to be prominently displayed on the appliance and of a standard size and design, and would comply with European Community regulations.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who said last December at the Royal Academy that we must heed the dangers posed by the greenhouse effect and that to ignore it could expose us to climatic changes whose dimensions and effects are unpredictable. She also said that energy efficiency is crucial.

Energy efficiency is a complex subject, not open to simplistic or easy solutions. Energy efficiency measures should be practical and workable. My Bill seeks to achieve those ends, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Malcolm Moss, Mr. John Hannam, Mr. Roger Knapman, Mr. Michael Morris, Mr. David Curry, Mr. Michael Brown, Mr. Chris Butler, Dr. Michael Clark, Miss Ann Widdecombe, Mr. Ian Taylor and Mr. Peter Rost.