American Elephants

DOE Bureaucratic Brilliance On Full Display by The Elephant's Child

This time it’s the Department of Energy.  They issued an “interim final rule” that mandates the test procedures that manufacturers must adopt to measure the minute amount of electricity used by microwave ovens when in “standby mode” and “off mode.”

First they have to define just what is meant by “standby mode” and what the parameters are, and how it is to be distinguished from other modes such as the “off mode,” which also has to be defined.  Theoretically when they are off, there are still the energy-using elements such as the clock (if any), the timer, and the indicator light that may remain lit when the microwave is not in use.

The task of setting energy standards for appliances that are turned off could involve hundreds of hours of testing, let alone all the time it would take to define the meaning of “off”.  According to DOE documents:

The department noted that if the microwave oven is equipped with a manual power on/off switch, which completely cuts off power to the appliance (i.e., removes or interrupts all connections to the main power source, in the same manner as unplugging the appliance), the microwave oven would not be in the “off mode” when the switch is in the “off” position. … But DOE revises its determination … and tentatively concludes that zero energy consumption due to activation of an on/off switch would be indicative of off mode rather than a disconnected mode.

Yes, of course we laugh at regulatory language, partly because it takes itself so seriously, and it’s hard to imagine some faceless bureaucrat in a federal cubicle devising the language that will have to be vetted by the lawyers and by the technology people, and proofread, and signed off on by the entire chain of command. We are paying for all of this, but the amount of taxpayer money is not the problem.

The problem is that we have been asleep, allowing government like some enormous amoeba cancer cell to grow and divide again and again. That is the nature of bureaucracy. The question is how do we stop it— do we establish another bureau to weed out unnecessary laws?  Do we demand that our representatives in Congress establish a committee to clean up the entire federal register? As if that would happen!  Yet the meddling has reached proportions that intrude ever more into our lives and interfere in our choices. The folks at Heritage explain further that:

The DOE contends that energy consumption by microwave ovens in “standby mode” represents a “significant” portion of microwave oven energy use. But a typical U.S. household consumes about 11,000 KWh of electricity per year. Based on testing done by the department, a microwave oven in “standby mode” consumes an average of just 2.65 watts of power. On an annualized basis, that constitutes a mere .006452 KWh of electricity.

Initially, DOE regulators wanted manufacturers to test each microwave oven model over a 12-hour period to capture the amount of power used to display the full range of lighted units. However, representatives of Whirlpool pointed out that every number of lit segments could be measured in just 10 minutes from, say, 3:33 to 3:42, thereby saving manufacturers considerable time and cost for testing.

For all the work that’s gone into devising the energy conservation standard for microwave ovens not in use, DOE officials offer another remedy for our supposed energy profligacy: The department’s Web site advises us to unplug  every appliance when not in use.

correction: “amoeba” just wasn’t strong enough!


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