Energy-saving kettles no reason for blood to boil

by Luke Lythgoe | 12.05.2016

Myth: EU ban on power-hungry kettles and toasters are an attack on British passion for tea and toast.

InFact: The British public supports energy efficiency. What’s more, power-guzzling appliances don’t necessarily work better than economical ones.

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The British press likes to attack the EU’s Ecodesign Directive for banning high-power household appliances. In 2014, for example, the EU capped vacuum cleaners’ power consumption at 1,600 watts – some popular models had previously run at 2,200 watts. The Daily Mail had a field day, offering a promotion on high-powered vacs before the ban came into force.

The next appliances to be powered down appear to be kettles and toasters. Gleeful British reporters are girding themselves to defend the British passion for tea and toast. “Crumbs!” says The Sun. “EU fat cats ‘crack down on KETTLES & TOASTERS in Britain amid avalanche of regulation,” The Express says. The European Commission has been cowed into postponing the new regs until after Britain’s EU referendum, with The Telegraph suggesting the moves might be “perceived as an assault on the British staples of tea and toast”.

But energy efficiency rules shouldn’t be controversial. After all, they contribute to efforts to restrain global warming: by 2020 the EU hopes the Ecodesign Directive will reduce carbon emissions by 7% below 2010 levels. The Commission also predicts savings on energy bills of around £370 per household per year.

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What’s more, British consumers like energy efficiency. A Eurobarometer study found 95% of Brits were in favour of tougher energy standards – an enthusiasm surpassed only in Cyprus and Malta. Research by ComRes, commissioned by the National Federation of Women’s Institutes and the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, showed 87% of British people support regulations to increase the energy efficiency of domestic appliances such as ovens and fridges.

Perhaps Brits like energy regulations but don’t want them to be imposed by the EU? The advantage of EU-wide rules is that the UK’s neighbours and trading partners will meet the same standards, and won’t free-ride on our environmental efforts. Even eurosceptic Tory MEP Syed Kamall backed the Ecodesign Directive in 2009.

If energy rules are good for the environment and popular with voters, maybe they are still a problem because they make appliances ineffective? Actually, no. Recent findings by Which?, a consumer group that originally warned against the new rules, show that manufacturers have innovated around the power restrictions. New energy-efficient vacuum cleaners perform as well as their energy-guzzling predecessors.

Kettles and toasters are much simpler devices than vacuum cleaners, and there is therefore less scope for technological innovation which might allow power to be reduced while maintaining performance. Still, there are potential innovations already in the pipeline; replacing kettle coils with thin film components, better insulating kettle jugs, using infrared rather than a heated wire in toasters. And if technological innovation cannot produce good, energy efficient kettles and toasters, British tea time won’t suffer. The Ecodesign Directive (Art. 15.5a) says ecodesign measures must have “no significant negative impact on the functionality of the product, from the perspective of the user”.

Of course, that message is too reasonable to make headlines in the eurosceptic press.

This article was updated on 17 May to include potential innovations for kettles and toasters, as well as criteria in the Ecodesign Directive.

Edited by Sebastian Mallaby

4 Responses to “Energy-saving kettles no reason for blood to boil”

  • Whilst I agree with the sentiment that the British consumers like energy efficiency, we also like choice. If I want to buy a boilatron 8000 that causes brownouts when powered up but boils in seconds rather than minutes so be it. As an adult I am able to make these decisions myself, knowing that perhaps I make greater strides on other areas to conserve electricity. Forcing a choice of kettle on someone won’t make them turn off all the lights for instants, nor stop them taking 25 minute power showers. I pity for humanity, that so many people seem to rely on governments to tell what to do rather than take the initiative themselves and use some common sense.

  • Research by ComRes, commissioned by the National Federation of Women’s Institutes and the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, showed 87% of British people support regulations to increase the energy efficiency of domestic appliances such as ovens and fridges.

    I was not asked about my views on the above. None of my immediate family were asked their opinion. So that paragraph is a lie. The statement is incorrect as only 87% ‘of those asked’ can be said to support these regulations. What percentage of the UK population took part in the survey? INFACTS? I don’t think so. Misleading propaganda? Oh yes.

  • As any GCSE physics student can tell you, the amount of energy needed to boil water is a function of the amount of water, the starting temperature of the water and the air pressure. A kettle with a lower output will just take longer to produce the necessary energy, since the kettle is probably not insulated it will use more energy that a higher wattage kettle.

    I assume this is the product of UK or EU civil servants, whose understanding of the physical world ends at working their iPhone.

  • Well said sir, I remember endless advice on turning off phone chargers. When the battery is full the charger goes cold which should tell these nannying do gooders that it is using next to no power.
    Another example of why the British public was right to vote leave and the decision MUST NOT be overturned.