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Energy Labels and Consuming Electricity Responsibly

Greg de la Cruz works at NCR Corp's R&D center in the Philippines. He is interested in economic history and current world financial affairs.

A sample energy label enforced by the European Union shows an energy-consuming product rated AA++, the second-highest rating a product can have.

A sample energy label enforced by the European Union shows an energy-consuming product rated AA++, the second-highest rating a product can have.

Energy Labeling in the Philippines

In 2019, the average person in the Philippines consumed 863 kilowatt-hours of electricity. For perspective, the world average per-person (per capita) consumption was around 3,000 kWh; and for comparison, a United States resident consumed 13 times more electricity than a Filipino resident in the same year. A simple calculation would lead us to 72 kWh of electricity consumed by a Filipino per month – and in visible terms, that’s a person using a standard air-conditioner for a maximum of three hours a day, every day.

What does it mean to be a responsible consumer? How can the ordinary citizen be led to a lifestyle that is more mindful of electricity consumption? One way is through energy labeling, which is hardly existent in the Philippines.

The Beginning of Energy Labelling

Energy labels were introduced as early as 1994 in the European Union, and they are ‘designed and employed as a means of providing consumers with information regarding the environmental and energy impacts that might not already be available to them otherwise’ (Energy Research & Social Science, ScienceDirect, 2017). In my own terms, these labels tell a buyer whether he is making an energy-efficient choice when he decides to buy something. He can then compare similar products based on this rating system. Some are labeled as ‘Poor’ (energy suckers) or ‘Good’ (which will save you a few bucks).

In 2019, the Philippines finally enacted a law that refreshed outdated and disorganized bodies of legislation dealing with energy consumption. Republic Act No. 11285, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act, provides for the energy labeling of consumer products. Section 4 (p) of the law defines Energy labeling as:

“(p) Energy labeling refers to the Philippine Energy Standards and Labeling Program (PESLP), which requires manufacturers to attach an energy label on their products to inform consumers about the energy performance and efficiency of the product.”

Energy Labeling in Legislation

But just how serious is the government about this energy labeling effort? Well, the new law itself has a provision for Prohibited Acts for which the penalties can range from 10,000 pesos to 1 million pesos (200 to 20,000 USD):

Section 30. Prohibited Acts. – The following acts are prohibited:

(a) Failing to comply with energy labeling;

(b) Removing, defacing, or altering any energy label on the energy-consuming product before the product is sold to the first retail purchaser or leased to the first lessee . . .

There are seven more punishable offenses down the list, but the very fact that the legislators put those related to energy labels at the very top of the list shows you that the priority of this new law is to get end-consumers to participate in the energy conservation effort.

Looking around the appliances and devices here at home, I can’t yet find any energy label sanctioned by the Philippines’ Department of Energy. That’s probably because most of the stuff here predates the law. But just how well will this Energy Labeling Program be implemented here? I guess that remains to be seen. We’re still starting out.

Benchmarking My Personal Consumption

My latest electricity bill said that my household consumed a total of 222 kWh in the past billing month. There are three of us in the household, so that amounts to 74 kWh per person – which is just slightly above the country per-person average. Thankfully, with my engineering background, I can easily blame these large energy eaters in my household:

  • Air-conditioning – we have a 1-horsepower (0.746 kW) window-type air conditioner. Not even turning on the six 5-watt light bulbs we have for the whole 24 hours can out-consume just one hour of room air-conditioning.
  • Refrigeration – we have a cheaper, leaner refrigerator that fits our needs. It may just be 80 watts, but the very fact that we have to turn it on non-stop sometimes gives me anxiety since that’s a fixed 900 pesos (18 USD) spent on refrigeration every month, which sadly is non-negotiable.
  • Cheaper cooling and ventilation (stand-fans, electric fans) – since we have to save on cooling costs, especially while working from home, we have to resort to cheaper alternatives like electric fans. They are usually in the 60-watt range, and they, too, are non-negotiable in a tropical country like the Philippines. Things get pretty humid down here.

That’s pretty much it. Other households would probably put cooking as an activity that consumes a lot of electricity, especially if those households use primitive electric heater stoves or go overboard on oven use. But this hasn’t been a problem for us thanks to induction cooking. Electronics and WiFi should probably get listed somewhere, but when I checked my modem, it was only 12 watts, so I’m not too worried about that.

All in all, my electricity consumption is typical, but without a doubt, more affluent families with their wide-screen TVs, larger-than-life refrigerators, and centralized cooling spend way more. And there’s the other end of the spectrum, which comprises more Filipino families, in my opinion – those who don’t even have refrigeration, let alone air-conditioning, and use portable LPG or Butane for cooking.

Which appliances consume the most electricity in your household?

Which appliances consume the most electricity in your household?

Should Citizens in Developing Countries Be Concerned About Consumption?

Now comes this not-so-crazy argument. Given that it would take the combined consumption of 13 Filipino residents to come close to the average consumption of a single American resident, is there even a point in encouraging Filipino consumers to consume energy more responsibly?

Why should we in developing countries care too much when we don’t even consume that much electricity, compared to those in rich countries like the USA – let alone the rest of the world?

Cost and Environmental Impact

For one thing, there’s the energy cost aspect. The Philippines is known for its high energy cost relative to what a person can afford. Consuming energy more responsibly would mean that a person would have to spend less for something so basic as electricity. Sadly, it can go as high as 10 percent of an average person’s income – giving the average person more energy-efficient options would certainly help this.

And the other aspect would be the impact on the environment. The Philippines is home to several renewable energy sources – hydro, wind, solar, and geothermal. Despite this, most big cities need to utilize diesel and natural gas power plants to satisfy the demand. My perception is that there isn’t necessarily a problem with energy sources, but there’s a lack of ability to utilize them. Ideally, the country should fully and completely tap into cleaner, renewable energy resources. However, the lack of infrastructure and investment for these means we still resort to coal, diesel, and whatever petrochemical derivative there is out there.

A Positive Worldwide Trend, but a Long Way to Go

Worldwide, dependence on non-renewable energy resources may still be present, but the trend this past decade is something to be optimistic about. There was virtually zero solar energy utilization in the 1990s, but by 2019, that figure rose to 1.1%. And while that percentage may sound trivial, it's actually a pretty big deal. All in all, reliance on renewable energy reached as much as 10%, and this, too, is good news.

Can we dream of the day when at least half of the world’s energy consumption is through renewable energy? Currently, solar energy is still tricky to manage, but the more time and experience we have as a society in utilizing it, the easier it will get. Despite the obvious environmental devastation (record-breaking storms, extreme temperature changes, and a pandemic) we have suffered in just the span of a few years, I’m feeling good about the future. Some small bathroom light bulbs used to be rated at over 20 watts a decade ago, and now a 3-watt equivalent can be used; that tells me can that we are heading in the right direction.