12 May 2016

Dear EU bureaucrats: hack mir nicht in tchainick! And Telegraph: you too...

"Hack mir nicht in tchainic": this old Yiddish expression was the first thing that came to mind after reading the story about the EU plans to establish a legal limit to the wattage of electric kettles.

So first, I guess, I have to explain that expression. According to a dictionary, it means "Don't get on my nerves". However, the word "tchainick" deserves special attention. Yiddish being a liberal mix of Hebrew, German, Russian and whatnot, the word "tchainick" came from the Russian word "чайник", which, lo and behold, means "kettle" - yeah, that same kettle that The Telegraph put in the midst of that article. The Telegraph says:
The European Commission plans to unveil long-delayed ‘ecodesign’ restrictions on small household appliances in the autumn. They are expected to ban the most energy-inefficient devices from sale in order to cut carbon emissions.

The plans have been ready for many months, but were shelved for fear of undermining the referendum campaign if they were perceived as an assault on the British staples of tea and toast.
What with the Brexit deal that I am not qualified to comment on, British public is naturally irked by the sacrilegious attempts of EU mandarins to defile "the British staples of tea and toast", so I've decided to do some digging on the strange matter of kettles.

Why strange? Just because anyone with some basic knowledge of elementary school physics will tell you that lowering the wattage of a kettle will not save the total amount of energy required to get that liter of water to the boiling point. I would even dare say that the opposite will be true: the more time you spend on the boiling procedure, the more energy will dissipate into your already hot kitchen. And it is difficult to believe that the bozos in the EU command structure are as dumb as it is required to miss that point.

So, being a bit sceptical about the highly incensed Telegraph writer's veracity, I went and done some googling. One of the several EU documents available (some are not accessible due to glitches) doesn't, of course, mention the kettle directly. Bureaucrats are usually loath to name a spade a spade, preferring their own language. So one will have to do with a generic statement:
(a) implementing measures starting with those products which have been identified by the ECCP as offering a high potential for cost-effective reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, such as heating and water heating equipment, electric motor systems, lighting in both the domestic and tertiary sectors, domestic appliances, office equipment in both the domestic and tertiary sectors, consumer electronics and HVAC (heating ventilating air conditioning) systems...
Emphasis on "water heating equipment", aimed directly at our beloved electric kettle, is mine. So indeed, the mighty EU is having the kettle in its murderous sights. However, no one said so far that the EU initiative is about banning high powered kettles. The Guardian would like to calm down the incensed citizens:
The energy consumption of a kettle depends on:
  • Thermal mass of materials that are heated while the water is heated.
  • Heat loss from external surfaces.
  • Ability to heat a small amount of water and no more than is needed.
  • Heat input continues after the water reaches required temperature (boils) until the automatic cut-out actuates.
  • Designs that heat to a pre-set temperature and then keep the water hot.
So it is rather about energy efficiency of the said kettle than about the power. And, speaking about efficiency, here comes a response by CECED (The European Committee of Domestic Equipment Manufacturers) to the EU far reaching initiative. I have taken the liberty to highlight especially delicious and/or hilarious parts. The quoted comes from part III. Product group 5: Electric kettles:
On page 58 the report refers to a measurement to boil one litre of water which resulted in a total energy consumption of 0.038kWh. This data cannot be correct as the theoretical minimum amount of energy required to boil one litre of water from the tap (15°C to 100°C) is ⌂ T * specific heat of water (expressed in kg) * specific weight of water. This gives 85 * 4186 joule/gram °C * 0.9798 kg = 348622 J = 349 kJ. Converting kJ in kWh this gives 0.097 kWh. This is more than twice as much as the measurement in the report and does not yet take into account potential heat losses. As the initial figure of 0.038kWh has been used to calculate the annual use phase electricity consumption we can deduce that the findings in terms of energy savings are likely flawed.
On page 62 the report also refers to energy saving options for kettles. In general it should be noted that electric kettles are already designed to be very energy efficient. The water in an electric kettle is in direct contact with the heating element and there is not pot to heat. Compared to for example a kettle on a stove (31% efficiency) or a micro wave (47% efficiency) the kettle achieves around 81%*. Referenced estimations of up to 20% energy efficiency improvement do not seem realistic. We would also like to highlight that the link (footnote 64) providing background data for the 20% does not work anymore.
According to the report “Thick film elements would therefore be regarded as Best Available Technology (BAT) due to the lower energy consumption and better durability” (page 63). Experiences from several manufacturers do not support this. Significant improvement of the energy efficiency has not been observed, and thick film even resulted in increased field call rates. Recent information received from a thick film manufacturer refers to an energy efficiency improvement of 10% for one specific component, not to the efficiency improvement of the whole kettle.
(*) To compare the 81% efficiency number: modern gasoline engines have a maximum thermal efficiency of about 25% to 30% [sic!] when used to power a car.

So the inevitable conclusions are two:
  1. The EU mandarins have made a very poor job of investigating the kettle.
  2. But they don't really intend to reduce its power, it certainly doesn't look like this.
  3. The projected savings from a gargantuan and highly doubtful effort to make an already efficient appliance a bit more efficient are minuscule compared with, to take one example, a similar improvement in car engines.
  4. There really are a few more serious problems than the darn kettle that EU has to deal with urgently.
So there.

Oh, and by the way: for the last few years we have been using one of the energy efficient European dishwashers. I shall refrain from mentioning the country of origin and the manufacturer.

Only one remark: it sucks.