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Dieselgate-like problem found in television sets by new NRDC report

Last year when I was covering the Dieselgate problem (the Volkswagen committing fraud by finagling emissions testing protocols) I had a haunting thought — in how many industries are the manufacturers pulling similar tricks?  Our society has caused governments to enact emissions controls, energy efficiency measures, and more, in the name of reducing the environmental and climate impact of the systems around us.  How are we ensured that the desired result (lowered impact) is what the manufacturers claim?

In the case of Volkswagen’s product line (Audi, Volkswagen, Skoda, etc), their Diesel cars were claimed to be pristinely clean while still providing great performance.  As a result of that claim, governments around the world gave preferential treatment to those cars, awarding the VW Group with subsidies and free promotion.  If their claims had been in line with reality, I would be applauding the VW Group as well.  But it turns out they were cheating and lying their way through the whole process.  The cars were only clean in testing labs, while out on the road they were still dirty diesels.  While I haven’t been writing reports on Dieselgate developments, I’ve been following the news.  It turns out that the fraud was widely known within the VW Group’s management hierarchy, and may have even been under the direction of the top leadership group, just as I expected.

I’m not here to rehash Dieselgate, but I reiterated that story because of news concerning a similar problem among television set manufacturers.

In the case of televisions, there is government testing and requirements concerning energy efficiency.  The more efficient the television set, the less electricity it consumes to perform the same task, the less cost it is to own/operate the television set, and the less environmental impact it makes.  Governments publish lists of efficient televisions, and there is labeling in the store so that consumers are aware of the impact of choosing one or another.

The NRDC has found that television set manufacturers have rigged their products to finagle energy efficiency settings, in a way that skirts around the Department of Energy testing procedures, making products look more efficient than they actually are.

NRDC and its consultant Ecos Research performed laboratory testing on TVs made by the three major TV manufacturers—Samsung, LG, and VIzio—using the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) test method for measuring TV energy use. Per our analysis, we believe that the test loop used by DOE does not reflect the characteristics of content people typically watch. Samsung and LG appear to be exploiting these anomalies to achieve lower energy use levels during the test than in real-world viewing. These two manufacturers, as well as Vizio, have also designed their TVs to automatically disable key energy-saving features such as automatic brightness control or motion-detection dimming—often with limited or no warning—whenever users change main default picture setting on their TV. While the manufacturer’s actions may not be illegal, they smack of bad faith conduct that falls outside the intent of the DOE test method designed to accurately measure TV energy use.

The result is that in normal consumer use (not DOE testing procedures) the affected televisions will consume way more electricity than indicated by the flawed DOE testing procedure.  Therefore the claimed energy efficiency numbers are wrong, and the environmental impact is far greater than promised.

You might be thinking – oh, it’s just a television, what’s the big deal?

It’s about the electricity consumption to achieve the task at hand.  The more electricity (or other resources) consumed to perform the task, the greater the environmental impact.  There are enough televisions in the USA (and elsewhere) that the sum-total impact of higher electricity consumption becomes a large amount of electricity, and therefore a large amount of pollution.

If we get back to cars – one of the reasons we like electric cars is energy efficiency.  An electric car can drive about 80 miles on the energy equivalent to 3/4th’s a gallon of gasoline.   The BMW i3 has an MPGe nearly 130 miles/gallon.  Yet, an electric car performs the same result (hauling our butts around town) while consuming less energy.

One of the solutions to the environmental/climate crisis we face is to change the proportions of energy/resource use per capita.  Lowering those proportions means we collectively make less impact.  THAT is why efficiency is important, to lower the overall impact per capita.  It should also produce an economic impact because we spend less money to achieve the same result.

Bottom line is that if we’re going to trust the desired environment/climate result comes by decreasing our collective impact, we must know with no uncertainty that the products which claim higher cleanliness/efficiency are actually more clean/efficient.   Otherwise it’s all a big fraud, and society will die in the name of making a profit.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.
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About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

5 Comments

  1. I have an absolute, firm, and perfect solution to all of this: unleash the lawyers. Allow class actions for manufacturer misrepresentations, in court: not individual cases; not in gamed arbitrations; not in limited jurisdictions; not with limited awards; not with judicial restrictions. If you give the lawyers the logical incentive — the same that exist in all other forms of civil litigation — then manufacturers will have to keep their noses clean.

    • Yes, I agree. However even that’s a slippery slope – a kind of who watches the watchman thing. What about the instances of crooked lawyers scamming with unwarranted lawsuits? Not all lawyers are forthright and upstanding individuals with great integrity. Every profession has its crooks, and lawyers are no exception.

      • Following the law as I do, I know of no instances of crooked lawyers scamming unwarranted class action lawsuits: by their nature, class action lawsuits are carefully vetted by other plaintiff lawyers, by the defendants, and by the courts. There are certainly instances of class action lawsuits that fail to provide what many would consider adequate remedy for the class members, but even then the lawyers are not crooked and the lawsuits were not unwarranted. But, moreover — and let’s not lose track of the subject — the issue of misrepresentation would be addressed and would have to be corrected.

        • Many years ago I had made what turned out to be an unwise investment in a company that went bankrupt. I lost over $35,000. I became involved with a shareholder lawsuit, and spent a couple days observing the bankruptcy court in operation.

          One of the lawyers represented a church which had allowed this company to install equipment in its steeple – equipment that was now going to be abandoned because the company had gone out of business. The lawyer made his case for relief, and then went on a rant for a couple minutes about how the whole proceeding was just a bunch of greedy lawyers sucking at the remains of this company while the people with a real stake (like his client) were going to end up with nothing.

          Basically I don’t think the Profit Motive is the right incentive for all purposes. Having Profit attached to the result seems to bring out the worst in people, and they end up conniving and scheming.

          For example – attaching the Profit Motive to Medicine has caused the horribly inefficient and costly medical system we have.

  2. 1. Yes, nothing is so informative as to actually sit in court. However, that was, you will agree, a different kind of matter — and one in which not every side is always equally represented (that is the unfortunate nature of bankruptcy matters: there is not sufficient financial incentive for all parties to be adequately represented by counsel).
    2. Bear in mind that, by definition, lawyers do not act for themselves: they are merely the mouthpiece and machinery in the hands of the client.
    3. Class actions, by definition, work with far more controls in place:
    a. Class action statutes (proof of the legitimacy of the class (several sets of requirements); proof of skill in represention; proof of legitimacy of action against defendant; proof of ability to make out the case against the defendant; proof of expert witnesses; etc.).
    b. Other plaintiff counsel, ensuring the competitiveness of the settlement (i.e., other counsel will hungrily offer to settle for less of a cut).
    c. Opponents.
    d. Judges enforcing all aspects of the law and trial.
    e. The natural self-leveling mechanism of class actions, whereby the court must approve any settlement for fairness.

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