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‘Orange tags’ for bigger savings

/ 12:26 AM February 24, 2016

The next time you enter an appliance store in search of a refrigerator, air conditioner, electric fan, stove, TV, iron, water heater or any of the myriad electronic devices we have come to rely on for comfort and/or convenience, make sure you look for an “orange tag” attached to it. This tells you the approximate amount (in peso value) of the electricity that appliance will use up in a day, an hour or per use.

The orange tags are provided by Meralco in conjunction with partner appliance manufacturers in an effort to, first of all, “help the consumer make informed choices,” says Tony Valdes, head of the marketing and customer relations office of Meralco.

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The bright orange tags, it is hoped, would give the buying public the information they need to ensure that the appliances they buy are within their budgets and are the most economical that they can afford. It is also, says Valdes, part and parcel of the utility company’s “malasakit” (compassion), their “care for customers.”

To ensure that the information contained in the orange tags is accurate and verifiable, appliances of various brands are first tested in Meralco’s test lab, says consumer solutions head Alfred Iporac. Iporac, an engineer, says they try as much as possible to replicate in the lab the normal conditions and the level of use of most appliances in the average Filipino home.

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And in such a home, says Valdes, “you’ll be surprised to know that only the most basic appliances are in use.” Air conditioners, for instance, are a decided luxury for Filipinos, or at least for those in Meralco’s franchise area (which includes Metro Manila and nearby areas like Laguna, Cavite, Bulacan). Only 25 percent of homeowners in these areas can afford air conditioners.

Refrigerators, which are considered a necessity in modern households, are found in 70 percent of homes, with most of these consisting of the relatively smaller (and thus affordable) 7 cubic feet size.

Television sets may be more ubiquitous in homes (consider how even in the most rundown informal settlements, TV antennas or even satellite dishes dominate the roofscape), but Valdes notes that most of them are still the old-fashioned CRT (cathode ray tubes) types, which consume far more electricity than the newer “flat panel” LCD or LED sets, which use about 30 percent less power.

This is why, says Valdes, Meralco is embarking on a public information drive to inform its users about new technologies that could dramatically reduce their monthly bills over the long term.

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One such technology is the induction cooktop. The folks at Meralco recommend this for its energy-saving qualities and for safety considerations.

One may recall the fire and explosion in the upscale Serendra condominium at BGC that resulted from a leak in the gas pipes of a unit. As a result, that condominium and many other residential buildings have forbidden tenants from using gas stoves as a safety precaution.

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The trouble is that electric stoves, especially the old-fashioned coil cooktops, tend to consume a lot of power, which was one factor working against their common use. But the induction cooktops, says Valdes, are safe to use. A website says the induction stove “doesn’t use traditional radiant heat, and heat food and liquids more quickly than traditional cooktops.”

One drawback is that it works only with flat metal cookware, although Valdes recalls seeing footage of an induction cooktop shaped to fit the curved bottom of a wok.

The induction cooktop, says Valdes, is but one example of new technology being employed to help people use electricity more efficiently and cheaply at that.

Appliances using “inverter” technology are likewise new developments, which have been proven, says Iporac, to consume around 20 to 40 percent less power, with consequent savings in electric bills. The problem with “inverter” technology, though, is that the initial outlay is still relatively steep, which may discourage many buyers. But as the technology becomes more common, inverter appliances will in time get cheaper, assured Valdes.

Another new technology is solar power, and although Meralco is currently studying the feasibility of investing in solar panels as power generators, Valdes says that at present the technology still hasn’t shown itself to be cost-efficient, especially at the household level. At present costs, he said, it would take a household about 10 years before recovering the investment spent on solar panels.

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Perhaps part of Meralco’s corporate strategy in promoting energy-saving practices and knowledge about electricity use is to counteract the fact that electricity rates in this country (including those outside of Meralco’s franchise area) are among the world’s highest.

While Joe Zaldarriaga, Meralco spokesperson (and corporate “face”), says an international study places Philippine power rates ninth highest among 40 markets surveyed, several factors account for the still-heavy burden of power costs.

These are, he says: the absence of a government subsidy that consumers in neighboring countries enjoy; taxes; the absence of an indigenous fuel source that some of our neighbors enjoy; and high transmission charges. Meralco, he hastens to clarify, is responsible only for distribution charges which account for only 18 percent of one’s monthly bills.

So I suppose every little bit helps. And if the orange tags and reminders about wise power consumption help reduce our electricity costs, so much the better!

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TAGS: Electricity, inverter technology, Meralco, orange tags, Savings, solar power
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