Are You Stupid to Trust SmartMeters, Unit Prices, and Energy Star Labels?

  • Share
  • Read Later

The Energy Department admits it doesn’t properly track how and when manufacturers put Energy Star labels on products. The labels’ ratings, which are supposed to indicate a product’s energy efficiency, were “not accurate or verifiable,” according to the agency. In other words, products that are supposed to save you money, and that are supposed to minimize environmental impact, may in fact do neither.

The Energy Star label is one of several “innovations” that are supposed to make consumers‘ lives easier—but in fact complicate them because the technology is flawed and misleading. The outcome is that unsuspecting consumers can and do get ripped off.

The NY Times explains that the Energy Department has poor oversight over the Energy Star ratings system. In many cases, the manufacturer—and the manufacturers alone—are responsible for testing and evaluating their own products. That’s like letting junior high students decide what grades they should get on their report cards. From the Times:

While the Energy Department requires manufacturers of windows and L.E.D. and fluorescent lighting to have independent laboratories evaluate their products, the report said, companies that make refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, water heaters and room air-conditioners, which consume far more energy, can certify those appliances themselves.

Meanwhile, you also probably shouldn’t trust the unit prices listed at stores—you know, the fine print price listed per ounce or gallon or whatever, to help you figure out if you’d get more value buying the large box of cereal or bottle of ketchup. The assumption is that things that come in bigger containers are better buys, but that’s not always the case, and the unit price is supposed to clue you in.

A Consumer Reports blog reports on a unit-price scandal (hey, it’s a scandal as far as cheapskates are concerned) at Target:

During a September inspection of the Stamford, Conn., Target, the state said it found that 17 of 50 products were incorrectly unit-priced, more than during a visit to the same store in July. That was the result even though the store had been warned about the problem during the earlier inspection, the state said. A hearing for the chain, which could face civil penalties, is scheduled for October 27.

Given these unit price inaccuracies and failure of at least some retailers to correct them even when they’re alerted, our advice is to bring a calculator when you’re shopping and verify the prices yourself. Otherwise, that jug of Tide that you thought cost less per ounce than that bottle of Cheer, might actually have cost you more.

By the way, don’t assume that the larger container of the same product is a better value, even if your comparing just one brand. Some items, such as tuna fish and ketchup, often have a so-called “quantity surcharge.” In other words, the large container costs more per unit than the smaller one.

“Quantity surcharge.” That’s a good one. Finally, there’s the smart reader, or SmartReader. Its purpose is to track a homeowner’s gas and electricity use with precision—and also, without the need of a meter reader, because info is sent via wireless. This means you don’t need a meter reader to come to your house, which is a nice convenience. Again, it’s something that’s supposed to make your life easier. Again, it’s not doing its job.

Or so say a ton of California residents, who have seen their utility bills nearly double since they’ve had SmartReaders installed in their homes.