This article was originally published in the March/April 1994 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.



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Home Energy Magazine Online March/April 1994

Life in the Independent Testing Lab

As manufacturers race to bring new energy saving products to the market, the demand for accurate, non-biased reports of product performance is growing rapidly. The need for product efficiency testing is increased further by new federal product efficiency standards and the need for reliable performance figures for utilities to use in planning and implementing demand-side management programs. The National Appliance Energy Conservation Act (NAECA), for example, set a schedule of progressively tougher standards--including a 30% increase in refrigerator efficiency over the 1990 standard. Also, the New England Electric System has required that CFLs have a power factor of at least 90% and total harmonic distortion of 33% or less to qualify for rebates.

The country's independent testing labs provide the objective, third-party evaluation necessary to insure that products perform as claimed. ETL Testing Laboratories, Incorporated in Cortland, New York is one of the two largest independent labs in the country. (Underwriters Laboratory--known for the UL stamp of approval--is the other.) ETL performs a variety of tests to determine product compliance with Department of Energy (DOE) guidelines for the familiar yellow Energy Guide labels and for SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating) labels. In 1993, ETL tested more than 1,000 central air conditioning units.

The lab also performed the testing for the Golden Carrot Award, a $30 million manufacturer incentive for efficient refrigerator design sponsored by the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (see Chasing the Golden Carrot, HEJan/Feb '93 and Whirlpool Wins, HE Sept/Oct '93). ETL provided the Consortium with the test results it used to narrow the field of 14 entrants to two finalists, and single out Whirlpool as the winner.

Another energy testing laboratory, BR Laboratories in Huntington Beach, CA, also tests refrigerators and other appliances. In1986, the California Energy Commission hired BR Labs to test 36 different models of refrigerators and compare the values to the labeled values provided by the manufacturers. Variation between certified and actual energy consumption was in the range of -37% to19%, but the labels were quite close overall. (For more on refrigerator ratings, see How Accurate Are Yellow Labels, HE Jan/Feb '93).

Much of the testing being done is funded by manufacturers' associations to comply with the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) product energy performance labeling requirements, which are guided by DOE standards. DOE sets testing parameters for 13 products, including refrigerators, water heaters, washers, and dryers. The potential savings from adherence to these standards is more than 2 quads of primary energy per year, said Michael McCabe, director of DOE's Office of Codes and Standards. ETL's customers include the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI), the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHA), and the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (GAMA).

Air conditioning testing standards are typically developed by professional organizations such as ARI and ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers). Consensus standards such as those developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) are, in some instances, very specific in their requirements for how tests are set up, how the laboratory is constructed, and for instrumentation and measurement tolerances.

But every test procedure is a compromise. The ideal energy test procedure accurately predicts energy use under actual conditions, and is easily repeatable and low-cost. Yet test procedures that attempt to mimic actual conditions and human behavior will be very complicated, highly uncertain, and very expensive. Independent testing labs charge about $2,000 to perform the current DOE test on a single refrigerator. While a simple test procedure may cut costs, it will ignore some factors affecting a refrigerator's energy use.

Although there are not consensus testing standards for every product on the market, compliance with established, standard testing requirements may require highly specialized personnel, equipment, and facilities. For example, ETL's upstate New York facility features a new, 18,000-ft2 HVAC testing lab that allows ETL to test 200-ton units.

ETL tests all types of residential water heaters for energy factor and first-hour ratings. Residential heating appliances are also tested at the request of manufacturers--to verify manufacturers' performance assumptions for new prototypes or experiential designs, or to comply with industry certification programs that require unscheduled random tests of an established product straight off the assembly line. The Certified Ballast Manufacturer Association (CBM), for one, contracts with ETL to randomly test its members' products and ETL makes periodic, unannounced visits to manufacturers' production sites.

Manufacturers' associations produce product directories which compare actual performance data with nameplate ratings of various appliances. For example, ETL performs the tests for GAMA's semiannual directory of certified efficiency ratios for gas and oil furnaces, boilers, and hot water heaters.

New ANSI standards are being developed and implemented for testing and performance rating of many relatively new high efficiency products, such as electronic ballasts for fluorescent lighting, dimming ballasts, and compact fluorescent products. The independent laboratories also test emerging products such as coolant reclamation devices, used to reclaim CFC coolants in automobile and large commercial air conditioners as required by state and federal law. As the demand for energy efficiency and environmentally benign technologies in industry and residential applications grows, the demand for the services of the independent testing labs will no doubt continue to grow as well.

-- Jim Clark

Jim Clark is technical advisor for Energy Matters, produced by WRVO-FM in Oswego, New York.


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