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!

4 Comments so far
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Work on measuring the electricity consumed in standby mode is part of an international effort (co-ordinated by the International Energy Agency, in which the United States, since the Nixon-Ford years, has been and is a leading member) to reduce consumption of any electrical or electronic device to no more than 1 Watt while on standby. This is in response to the growing amount of power consumed by devices that still consume power even when “off”.

Click to access Standby_Summary.pdf

Any regulation relating to electricity requires standardized testing procedures. And, in fact, many if not most of those testing procedures are established initially by private-sector bodies.

In my humble opinion, you are blowing this example out of proportion.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

I could not care less which administration started this. The federal government has limited powers, according to the Constitution. They have, for years, been expanding those powers into every nook and cranny of American life. I am quite aware of standardized testing procedures and technical writing, as far as that goes. I want government to stop ordering calorie counts on vending machines. I want their power over food confined to, as you said, hygiene. Good word. I don’t want Michelle Obama deciding what our children should eat. That is the parent’s business, not hers. I want the EPA eliminated. It is a crooked agency. I am fed up with excess regulation. The federal government has regulated dishwashers that etch your dishes, washing machines that don’t get clothes clean and cost 2 to 3 times as much as they should, Energy Star appliances that are not energy saving, lightbulbs that take an hour to ramp up to full brightness. It is an insatiable desire to control, and they’re no damn good at it. That’s my humble opinion.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

Can anyone tell me — aside from national defense — what useful purpose our Federal government serves?


Comment by Samsapeel1

Bureaucracies just don’t do things very well, and the bigger the bureaucracy the worse it gets. As far as that goes, the military is a pretty big bureaucracy. However, they take a bunch of callow, ignorant young men and teach them all sorts of amazing skills, like running nuclear submarines, flying planes, operating all sorts of huge expensive machines. Maybe we should put the military in charge of education. I’ll bet they’d solve our math and science problems right off the bat.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

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