Data compiled by TopTen Switzerland suggest that Chinese comfort fan producers sell energy-guzzling products to Europe and other regions. Given that these products are not even allowed in China, the EU should also ban them from the bloc’s market, by setting minimum energy efficiency limits, writes Hélène Rochat.
Comfort fans are often a good alternative to air conditioners. With a fraction of the power, they provide a soothing effect. While the input power of a portable air conditioner is approximatively 1000 W, a comfort fan can provide a satisfactory alternative result with only 50 W.
The market for comfort fans has been growing steadily over the years as summers get hotter. In 2020, the EU and UK imports reached 52 million fans, according to recent UN Comtrade data – twice as many as a decade ago.
With no data, consumers are left in the dark
Given the popularity of fans, Topten (a Coolproducts partner organisation) decided to put together a product list of the most energy-efficient comfort fans, seeking to guide consumers towards the most efficient solutions for cooling their homes. This is an exercise Topten often does for different products – but what we found when looking into fans was shocking, even to us.
First of all, finding information on the energy performance of products was much harder than expected. Most fan producers do not disclose information about the energy performance of their products, even though EU ecodesign regulations for ‘comfort fans’ require them to provide such data.
However, 89% of the analysed products did not offer data on their energy use. Out of 158 fans evaluated, only 8 fulfilled the EU requirements regarding product data. Finally, having directly contacted the manufacturers and importers, we managed to gather data for 75 models. In many cases, the manufacturers were not even aware that information requirements existed.
The lack of data shows that EU product information requirements alone are simply insufficient to ensure that companies give correct and consistent figures on the energy performance of their appliances – and without this information, consumers are simply left in the dark.
Too polluting for China; good enough for other countries
Even if the EU sets information requirements for fans, producers have no obligation to meet any kind of energy efficiency threshold, as is the case for many other products (including air conditioners) under ecodesign regulations in Europe.
Out of the 75 models with complete product data, 32 appliances (42%) did not comply with the Chinese MEPS
Interestingly, China does set minimum performance requirements (also called MEPS) for fans sold on their market. Since most comfort fans imported to the EU are produced in China (95% of units according to UN Comtrade data), we decided to verify whether fans on the European market would at least comply with the Chinese MEPS.
The results were surprising. Out of the 75 models with complete product data, 32 appliances (42%) did not comply with the Chinese MEPS! This means that Chinese manufacturers make products that cannot be sold in their home country, intending to export them to countries or regions with lower or no requirements in terms of energy efficiency.
The situation is likely to be even worse, as this is only part of the picture. We expect some of the worst performers are hiding among those who choose not to disclose energy performance data (we did not manage to obtain data on 83 products out of the 158 analysed). If their performance rates were better, manufacturers would probably be keen to make their data available.
Environmental dumping at its finest
This practice is a textbook example of environmental dumping. It is legal, but most probably importing countries are not even aware that they are receiving low-quality products that the exporting country does not allow at home. This practice undermines the ability of the importing country to fulfil its environmental objectives and goes against the interest of consumers.
To end with this situation in Europe, the EU needs to set their own requirements. Ideally performance and material efficiency requirements that are more stringent than those of the exporting country (in this case, China), or at the very least, harmonise the efficiency requirements with the Chinese ones.
Setting minimum requirements for fans is no extraordinary practice: many other countries have them in fact – China is not the only one. Also countries such as India, Malaysia, and Vietnam have comfort fans MEPS in place. A key competitive edge that Europe has is environmental ambition, therefore actions must be taken to avoid lagging behind other regions.
Without proper ecodesign regulations in place, our appliances are not as efficient as they could be, resulting in higher bills and unnecessary additional CO2 emissions
What can the EU do?
At the moment, lack of attention is the main obstacle to energy efficiency limits for fans in Europe. Regulations for fans are coupled with those of air conditioners, which are seen as a much more important product. For example, comfort fans were barely mentioned during the first stage of the process to review ecodesign regulations for fans and air conditioners. An addendum report finally showed that fans should be considered as a broader and more complex product category than it was first thought.
Energy efficient appliances are key to reducing our energy bills at a time when gas prices are soaring. Without proper ecodesign regulations in place, our appliances are not as efficient as they could be, resulting in higher bills and unnecessary additional CO2 emissions. Ecodesign and energy labelling policies alone are expected to deliver about one-third of the savings needed to achieve the EU’s 2030 55% emission reduction target.
Unfortunately, fans are not the only product lacking proper regulation. The European Commission is dragging its feet in the development of ecodesign and energy labelling rules for many other products, mainly due to a lack of allocated resources.
Delays in developing ecodesign and energy labelling policies are estimated to cause 10 million tonnes (CO2eq) of additional emissions by 2030, according to an analysis by ECOS and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) for the Coolproducts campaign. This is equivalent to 5 million cars added to our roads. Without delays, consumers could save a total of 40 billion euros on their energy bills between 2020 and 2030.
A (not so efficient) TopTen list of top-performing fans
Our final list of the best-performing fans available on the market in 2021 included 120 models. Of these products, 12 do not comply with the Chinese energy efficiency requirements. That means that 12 of the best performing models in Europe cannot be sold in China because they are too polluting. The Commission needs to act now – the European Union cannot be a dumping site for low-efficiency fans.
China National Institute of Standardization. GB12021.9-2008 Minimum allowable values of energy efficiency and energy efficiency grades for AC electric fans
EC (2008). Preparatory study on the environmental performance of residential room conditioning appliances (airco and ventilation): Study on comfort fans –final report. Available at: https://www.eup-network.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Produktgruppen/Aircon_Final_report_of_Task_1.pdf
EC (2018). Review of Regulation 206/2012 and 626/2011: Air conditioners and comfort fans – Final version. Available at https://hal-mines-paristech.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01796759/document
EC (2020). Review of Regulation 206/2012 and 626/2011 Air conditioners and comfort fans – Addendum regarding Comfort fans
Topten.eu. Product list for comfort fans. https://www.topten.eu/private/products/comfort_fans
Topten.eu. Selection criteria for comfort fans. https://www.topten.eu/private/selection-criteria/comfort-fans
UN Comtrade (2021). Data on Fans; table, floor, wall, window, ceiling, or roof fans, with a self-contained electric motor of an output not exceeding 125W. Available at: https://comtrade.un.org