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Environment (Deep End)

If you were to ask a hardcore eurosceptic if there’s anything about Brussels that doesn’t totally suck, then, taking the question literally, he or she might point to the impending EU ban on powerful vacuum cleaners. Thanks to the EUSSR’s eco-fascism (the inappropriate references to monstrous evil get a little mixed here), an Englishman’s home will henceforth be a dusty one.

But is this really the dastardly assault on ancient British liberties (first they came for our household appliances, etc) that some people think it is?

Rather unexpectedly, the Telegraph features a convincing argument in favour of the ban from none other than Christopher Booker:

“It is not often that this column speaks kindly of the EU, but I’m afraid all that hyper-ventilating about how Brussels is trying to save the planet by ‘banning’ our vacuum cleaners misses the point of a rather interesting story…

“What Brussels is doing, under its Ecodesign Directive 2009/125, is to encourage manufacturers to develop appliances that require less electricity to produce a much more efficient performance.”

The new standards don’t in fact apply to how powerful the vacuum cleaner is, but how much electricity it uses – which is not necessarily the same thing:

“Sir James Dyson tells us that he could make a machine just as effective as the 2,000 to 3,000 watt models being ‘banned’, using only 700 watts.”

The purpose of a vacuum cleaner is to suck-up dirt not electricity, so if better design can achieve the former without the latter, then who’s complaining (apart from the electricity companies)?

Booker notes that in seeking to drive up efficiency, the dictatorial EU is only catching up with the land of the free:

“Brussels is following moves in the US to reduce electricity demand by switching to appliances that are much more efficient; washing machines are now on sale that have cut energy use by 75 per cent, are 45 per cent cheaper – and even wash clothes better. This is all part of a drive to promote ‘demand side management’, by devising ways to cut electricity demand without reducing performance.”

The more that we can reduce our demand for electricity, the less we’ll need to build on the supply side. Or, to put it in language that Mr Booker’s biggest fans will understand: more efficiency; fewer wind farms.

But, hang-on, why do we need Brussels, Washington or any other government to pass regulation to this effect? If energy efficiency is such a selling point then why can’t we leave market forces do the job?

A number of reasons.

In many product areas, rotten design can persist for decades – thanks to consumer and producer inertia. We can’t always wait for innovators like James Dyson to shake (and vac) things up.

Then there’s the ‘early model’ problem. The first energy saving light bulbs were unpopular because they were pricey, they took a while to fully switch on and the light they gave off was the wrong colour. But with government measures pushing uptake, they got cheaper and better. For all the fuss surrounding their forced introduction, most people now use them without thinking – not least because they last a lot longer than the old incandescent bulbs.

Finally, there’s the issue of scale. Energy savings that might seem too small to make much of an impression on individual consumers, can, in aggregate, add up to entire power stations that we no longer need to build. However, because market incentives work at the level of the individual and not entire populations, it takes a government incentive to make change happen.

Whisper it quietly, but sometimes regulation serves as a prod and not an obstacle.

42 comments for: Why we should support Europe’s war on vacuum cleaners

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