Talking point: Suck it up

Written by Neil Evans on 12 September 2014

I’d not seen a good Europe scare story for a while, so I was delighted when I returned from a week away to see a news story that people were rushing to their nearest Comet to buy vacuum cleaners.

New legislation from the EU means that restrictions have been put on power ratings. As of 1 September, the maximum power rating is 1600 watts – this will be cut to 900 watts in three years time. The current average on the market at the moment is 1800 watts.

This was followed by an outcry, particularly because a particular brand of vacuum (the one with a smiley face on) some claimed would fall foul of the new restrictions – oh, and apparently, they are coming for our hairdryers next.

The reason for the cull on vacuums is to comply with new EU regulations on energy efficiency, one which the European Commission estimates will save 19 terawatt-hours per years by 2020, offsetting the equivalent electricity produced by more than four power plants.

In some ways the backlash was inevitable. It is now five years since the new regulations on the old tungsten light bulbs were brought in and yet there is a shop I know in Fife where a handwritten note still promises its customers it sells “illegal light bulbs”.

Which? warned that five of the seven models on its Best Buy list since January 2013 would need to be phased out because of the new regulations, but the EU has defended the rules and said it is not the power rating that makes the cleaner work well.

The bottom line though is that this is about a push far larger than Europe trying to control how we go about picking up dust at home.

While there is a target to de-carbonise electricity and promote renewable energy, it goes hand in hand with the need to ensure we cut needless electricity. The EC estimates that all the products with minimum efficiency requirements combined will deliver as much as a third of the EU’s energy-saving target for 2020 – that’s one third less electricity we need to worry about producing in the first place.

In reality, the power rating is just one of the restrictions on vacuums, which also includes noise levels, durability and performance – the net result being that just like the rules on new cars, we just end up with better performing vacuums.

Neil Evans

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