DoE Issues Regulation on Standby Power of Microwave Ovens

Editor’s Note: IMPI Fellow Dr. John Osepchuk has provided this analysis of the new DoE Regulations.

Background: In the past the DoE (Department of Energy) had investigated the option of issuing a regulation to limit the efficiency of microwave ovens above some minimum. This idea was dropped by DoE because of difficulty in obtaining reproducible results in practical tests for efficiency. In fact, as IMPI people had pointed out, since the average consumer operates an oven for only 15 minutes per day, the difficulties in developing an efficiency standard are not justified by the relatively small amount of energy compared to other energy expenditures in the home or elsewhere.

In early 2013, however, the media, in general, were confused when the White House announced an “obscure” new regulation on microwave ovens (on standby power) which was said to be an important first step in the campaign to reduce carbon emissions in the next 30 years. A controversial side issue was the use of new (increased) estimates on the dollar costs of carbon emissions. Some media people found it bizarre that a fundamental policy change should be buried in such a seemingly trivial if not “obscure” regulation on one consumer product. The reason why this issue has any practical significance is that the total effects on carbon emissions and energy savings are those when the small standby power (a few Watts) is multiplied by the large population of ovens in the U.S. ( ~150 million) and summed over the next 30 years.

In 2013, after extensive discussions with AHAM (Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers), Whirlpool and GE, the DoE did issue a regulation on standby power from microwave ovens, viz: 2013-06-17: Energy Conservation Program: Energy Conservation Standard for Standby Mode and Off Mode for Microwave Ovens: Final Rule. The rule applies to all microwave ovens (sold to consumers in the U.S.) manufactured after June 17, 2016. The limits are:

Product Classes Effective June 17, 2016
Microwave-only and countertop- Maximum Standby Power convection microwave ovens = 1.0 Watt
Built-in and over-the-range Maximum Standby Power convection microwave ovens = 2.2 Watts

Many will be puzzled on why this regulation and why the microwave oven is the first device regulated in the new phase of addressing climate change. If “Standby Power” is googled, one will find a significant amount of material on the subject even with some provocative fear-mongering terms like “vampire power”. Surprisingly, one will find many devices in the home with standby power much higher than for microwave ovens, including digital cable TV sets and computers for which standby power ranges from 10 to 30 Watts. Thus, of all the countless devices in the home and elsewhere, why was the microwave oven selected for this new area of regulation?

We note the coincidental appearance in the technical literature of a paper on reducing standby power of a microwave oven, viz: Chen-Hung Tsai et al.., “Reduce the standby power consumption of a microwave oven” IEEE Transactions on Consumer Electronics, Vol. 59, Issue 1, pp. 54 – 61, February, 2013. The authors believe it is easy to reduce the standby power from over a Watt to several milliwatts. On a practical basis, however, it appears that the DoE limits of 1 (2.2) Watts can be met by manufacturers without sacrificing the desirable feature of displayed time (i.e. clock)

In the end, one wonders about the matter of priority. Does the standby power issue deserve this amount of attention and formal government actions in the face of greater and more global issues—e.g. renewable energy including fusion, nuclear and even the visionary SSP/MPT ( Space Solar Power/ Microwave Power Transmission) which was addressed in a special issue (June 2013) of the Proceedings of the IEEE. ---or the even more visionary but basic proposal by Prof. Pound on comfort heating of humans through microwaves. viz.” R. V. Pound, “radiant heat for energy conservation”, Science, Vol. 208, pp. 494 – 495, (1980). –an idea supported in the archives of IMPI’s journal, viz.: Robert D. McAfee et al, “Safety of 9.3 GHz Microwave Radiant Heating for Possible Caloric Supplement and Medical Treatment”, J. Microwave Power, pp. 13 – 16 (1985).

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