Smarter Living: Energy

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Photo: Mikael Miettienen/Flickr

TopTen USA is a new non-profit intended to help consumers and businesses identify the ten most energy efficient products within different product categories, from TVs and dishwashers to computers and cars.

The organization's online website is devoted to educating people about products that will save them the most on their energy bill while also benefiting the environment by reducing carbon emissions.

Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist in NRDC's energy program and Director of the Center for Energy Efficiency in San Francisco, tells us more about TopTen USA, how it will help you purchase better products and how NRDC is involved:

Q: How did TopTen USA get started and why did NRDC get involved?

NH: TopTen started in Europe and is fully operational in 16 different European countries. Several of us saw a similar need here in the U.S. and helped form TopTen USA. A tool such as TopTen USA was needed because there is currently no easy way for people to identify the most efficient models on the market. While Energy Star does a good job of identifying the better products from an energy use point of view, there was no way to find the best.

Though TopTen organizations consistently help put together lists of the ten most efficient models in a given market, it's important to note in almost all cases, the lists we put together for the U.S. will be different from the lists developed, for example, by TopTen France or TopTen Germany. And as TopTen USA is a non-profit, it does not receive funds from manufacturers. This financial independence should bring TopTen USA critical credibility with its users.

NRDC was one of the founding Board members and I serve as the Vice Chair of TopTen USA's Board of Directors. We got involved because we saw TopTen USA as useful tool to help reduce global warming emissions. The link here is a simple one: More efficient products require less energy, which translates to lower CO2 emissions from the power plants. Few people are aware that 40 percent of all global warming pollution comes from the power plants that generate the electricity we use.

Q: What types of information does TopTen USA provide to consumers and how do you think it will affect their choices?

NH: TopTen USA presents consumers with information on the ten most efficient models for a product category. TopTen USA contain lists of the ten most efficient refrigerators, freezers, laptop computers, TVs, dishwashers, cars and clothes washers (click on each product to view the TopTen list for that product category). TopTen USA also creates sub categories within each market segment. As appropriate TopTen USA might publish lists for the most efficient large, medium or small sized models of a particular product, such as televisions.

This information will help motivated consumers identify the most efficient models when they are in the market for a new product. In addition, TopTen's website contains information on the products annual energy use and how much money one would save by purchasing the listed model compared to a comparable model or one that just meets Energy Star. The website includes links to help consumers find local retailers that stock the product along with pricing information.

Q: What methods does TopTen USA use to evaluate and rank products?

NH: The approach used to select products for listing varies by product category. The key criterion for listing is energy efficiency but, depending on the type of product, may also include environmental, health and safety concerns. In addition, to be listed the product must be available for purchase in the U.S. market. TopTen USA obtains and analyzes data compiled by the Department of Energy and EPA and other sources to identify the most energy efficient models on the market.

Q: What makes TopTen unique in the U.S.? How do you think TopTen will influence the U.S. market?

NH: There is nothing that compares to TopTen USA in the U.S. The only tool we have for easily identifying the most efficient models on the market is the Energy Star label. While we are big fans of the Energy Star program, it only provides info on the top 25% or so of the market from an energy use point of view. It does not have sufficient granularity to identify the super efficient models. For example, on many occasions there can be a significant difference in the energy use of two Energy Star qualified products. But unfortunately, all the consumer can tell is whether the product is Energy Star or not. TopTen seeks to fill this information gap by improving the quality and specificity of information available to consumers about energy efficient products.

Our hope at NRDC is that TopTen lists help drive demand for the most efficient models and that over time they help drive increased stringency of Energy Star's specifications. In the long term, our dream is for these TopTen USA products to become the most popular models in the U.S. market, which drives manufacturers to develop a new generation of even more efficient models.

Q: Is there anything else people should know about TopTen USA?

NH: In some parts of the country, rebates may be available for certain TopTen USA qualified products. See TopTen USA's comprehensive list of rebate offers for eligible products, including washing machines, freezers, refrigerators, dishwashers and room A/C. TopTen provides complete information on available rebates in different locations as well as direct links to fill out rebate forms.

Also folks should know that a similar program is being developed in China. Given the ever-growing nature of their market, this is a wonderful development.

Don't forget to recycle your old electronics and household appliances! Learn more about salvaging parts from your old products on Smarter Living: Salvage or Scrap - Computers, Air Conditioners, Dishwashers, Clothes Dryers, Refrigerators and more

last revised 8/8/2011

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