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Future Eco-rules for Servers Move Forward, While Initiatives for More Efficient Electric Kettles Lose Steam

The European Commission has tabled ecodesign provisions to improve the resource efficiency of servers and other data storage products as of 2019. Separately, Commission officials also commented on the likely timeline for the development of new ecodesign measures for electric kettles, indicating that the implementation of such measures remains some years away. These initiatives both form part of the Commission’s commitment to pursue regulatory legislation that supports the environment through the reduction of energy use and waste and the promotion of longer-lasting goods as well as the circular economy.

Hong Kong suppliers of data storage and other technology products may be aware that the EU has already adopted certain ecodesign requirements for computers and computer servers through Commission Regulation 617/2013 of 26 June 2013 implementing Directive 2009/125/EC establishing a framework for the setting of ecodesign requirements for energy-related products (the Ecodesign Directive).

Like most measures implementing the Ecodesign Directive, this existing Regulation focuses exclusively on the energy use of the product, (in this case computers and servers). The Commission’s newly proposed eco-standards, however, aim to implement stricter rules concerning the minimum energy performance and the material efficiency of servers and other data storage devices.

The Commission addresses the minimum energy performance of these products by proposing a cap on the power that servers may consume when in idle mode. The proposal also stipulates minimum power factors for servers and data storage products as of 2019, as well as threshold efficiency requirements that the power supply units for these devices must meet. These efficiency requirements will be tightened progressively: in 2019, 2023 and 2026.

The Commission’s envisaged measures for servers may result in substantial efficiency gains. For example, the Commission has noted that by 2030 the new measures would save 8.9 terrawatt (TWh) hours annually if implemented by the 2019 target, or 17.3 TWh annually if implemented a year earlier, in 2018.

The future ecodesign measures will also aim to improve the material efficiency of data storage devices. In other words, such devices should be designed to last longer, and to be more easily repaired rather than replaced. To this end, producers would be required not only to supply information on how to recycle used products, but also to provide a means of effectively removing old data so that the devices may be reused. Traders dealing in any component pieces of such products may be interested to learn that under the proposed requirements, manufacturers would also be required to make data storage device circuitry, like motherboards and memory units, more easily accessible for repair. In effect, this would mean that permanent means of assembling the product, such as welding or gluing, should be replaced by reversible techniques.

While the Commission’s ecodesign proposals relating to data storage devices are moving ahead, older initiatives aiming to develop energy efficiency proposals for other consumer goods, such as electric kettles, have been slow to progress despite having previously been identified as a Commission priority.

Indeed, on 14 February 2017, European Commission policy officer Michael Bennett noted that although the Commission might begin developing energy efficiency standards for electric kettles in 2017, these would not enter into effect for a number of years. Mr. Bennet made these remarks at a forum in Brussels organised by the European Policy Centre.

Hong Kong traders of consumer goods may recall that in November 2016, the Commission released its Ecodesign Working Plan for 2016-2019. The plan listed seven product categories as priorities for new energy efficiency regulations, including kettles, solar panels and hand dryers.

Mr. Bennett noted that while these products have been targeted for new ecodesign measures, the process of developing and implementing such measures is lengthy and involves several phases. First, simply completing the preparatory study laying the groundwork for the creation of energy efficiency provisions would normally take two years. The Commission would then need to carry out impact assessments to determine the effects of any proposed provisions.

Next, the Commission’s tabled provisions would need to be approved by a committee consisting of representatives of the EU Member States through the comitology legislative process. Mr. Bennet observed that comitology is a very uncertain procedure and can often result in voting deadlocks and last-minute deal-making. Indeed, he acknowledged that the Commission has introduced new procedural measures aiming to prevent Member States from causing delays in the voting process.

Mr. Bennet also noted that the Commission planned to look beyond developing efficiency standards when supporting more ecofriendly product design. Partly in response to a push from the European Parliament, the Commission will also examine how to encourage the development of more durable products.

In this regard, Mr. Bennet hinted that the Commission was likely to favour lighter requirements that would allow the market to operate largely as usual rather than introduce a potentially disruptive rule mandating a particular lifespan for certain categories of products.

Some representatives of European environmental groups have contended that many manufacturers currently do not offer durable product designs because customers are unwilling to pay for them. They speculate that restrictions related to product durability may either have the effect of pushing these products out of the market entirely, or of refocusing sellers’ attention on the after-market service of such products.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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