This article was originally published in the January/February 1998 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.


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Home Energy Magazine Online January/February 1998


European Appliance Technology Marches Onward

This issue contains an article about the annual European appliance exhibition, Domotechnica, which attracts an international collection of manufacturers displaying their latest products and concepts. Sometimes--but certainly not always--those products make the difficult trip across the Atlantic and appear in the United States years later. Horizontal-axis washing machines and quiet, high-efficiency dishwashers are two examples of technologies that took decades to get here. Domotechnica allows us to peek into the window and catch a glimpse of the future of U.S. appliances.

Technology aside, there are surprising differences in the underlying trends. Green appliances are much more important in Europe. This means increased use of recycled materials, design for disassembly, and greater attention to the environmental aspects of construction and use. To be sure, these trends are reinforced by new regulations in the European Union, but the manufacturers are also responding to consumer demand. Germany and Scandinavia appear to be leading the charge, with France and the United Kingdom trailing. Those consumers are willing to pay a premium for appliances that have green features, including energy efficiency. This trend may exist in the United States but manufacturers certainly haven't begun responding the way they have in Europe.

Trends cross the Atlantic in the other direction, too. As authors Waide and Lebot note, energy labels have only just appeared on some European appliances. The labels are much more thoughtfully designed and colorful than their dowdy American cousin, the yellow EnergyGuide label, but they are almost 20 years late. Minimum-efficiency regulations--now almost 10 years old in the United States--are just getting started for a few appliances in Europe.

Domotechnica continues to surprise (and amuse) visitors, offering innovations that push the envelope of energy efficiency and strain the credulity of the exhibitors. Washing clothes seems to be more important in Europe, or at least manufacturers are investing more in efficient machines. Washing machines controlled by computers are becoming more common. And in an attempt to keep the appliance from becoming obsolete, new chips will be offered when better programming becomes available. Will we need to reboot our washing machines and check them for viruses as we do now with our PCs?



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