The U.S. Level VI energy-efficiency regulation, aimed at energy savings in external power supplies, goes into force on February 10, 2016, and will impact all OEMs selling into the U.S. market. The European Union (EU) also is expected to harmonize with the new efficiency standard.
Developed to conserve power primarily in consumer and industrial-type products – medical power supplies are exempt, the move to Level VI added two major components to the energy-efficiency power standards in the United States. While the past regulation (Level IV) focused on active mode efficiencies, the new regulation, released by the Department of Energy, also focuses on no-load power consumption, reducing the allowable no-load power draw to as low as 20 percent of levels in previous standards. In addition, it expands the range of products under the standard to include multiple-voltage external power supplies and products with power levels >250 watts.
“It added multiple voltage power supplies as well as included power supplies up to 250 watts, which means it will have a broader reach when it takes effect, said Andrew Johnson, product manager for external power supplies, CUI Inc.
The new standard includes exemptions for medical power supplies. “Any product approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are not part of this new regulation,” said Johnson.
“It’s a two-pronged approach,” said Johnson. “The regulation addresses active mode when the adapter is powered up and supplying power to the end product. Under the regulation, efficiency is increased by roughly five percent.”
But the big change is at no load when the adapter is plugged into the wall – like a cell phone charger – and nothing is connected to it, Johnson added. “Power consumption at Level IV was .5 watt and at Level VI it’s decreasing to .1 watt, which when you talk about the millions of adapters in the market it’s significant in power savings.”
“It’s a big step in making sure that we’re designing and delivering products that aren’t wasteful,” he added.
“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that external power supply efficiency regulations implemented over the past decade have reduced energy consumption by 32 billion kilowatts, saving $2.5 billion annually and reducing CO2 emissions by more than 24 million tons per year,” according to CUI.
The nationwide power standards to address power consumption came into play in 2007 when the U.S. Congress passed the Energy Independent Security Act (EISA), called Level IV. Previously, the state of California had passed its own regulation in 2004 to deal with power consumption issues on its local grid. EISA 2007 was passed to harmonize the power standards across the states.
“Shortly after, the EU and Australia also enacted similar legislation to Level IV, and in 2011 the EU bumped it up to Level V,” said Johnson. “However, the U.S. remained at Level IV.”
Currently, Level IV is mandated by the U.S. and Canada, while Level V efficiency standards are mandated by EU countries. Johnson fully expects the EU to harmonize with U.S. requirements. Click here for a timeline of power standards, provided by CUI.
“At that point the modifications that we needed to make to move from Level IV to Level V was very small,” said Johnson. “In fact, they were so small that it only meant shortening the DC side of the cord coming out of the adapter by a few inches or mm so we were able to take the current designs and have it meet the Level V regulations.”
“Moving to Level VI is going to be a game changer in terms of the design. When we talk about the power ICs and transformers – those are critical components on the board, these components need to be changed in order to meet the new efficiency standards. It is a complete redesign of the adapters.”
In addition to the big change for power supply manufacturers, OEMs also need to prepare for the transition to the higher energy-efficiency standard. “As we have gone through these transitions over the past decade we’ve been surprised by how uninformed and underprepared some of our OEM customers have been,” Johnson said.
“There are a lot of design companies that may have products in the middle of their lifecycle that aren’t necessarily aware of the new regulation,” he added.
Early awareness gives designers the chance to design in the latest technology, and purchasers the time to consider the need to get a different adapter in the pipeline and approved so they can start purchasing a new SKU, Johnson added.
CUI started to introduce Level VI compliant adapters in late 2014 to help customers stay ahead of the new legislation. “We’re giving people a long runway to decide when they’re ready to make the change, which is why we started introducing products at the end of last year. By the end of the second quarter we expect to have all of our product lines from 5 watts up to 250 watts ready to go in distribution and ready for customers who either want to design new products or are ready to make the switch on their current products,” said Johnson.
Johnson also noted that in terms of form and fit, the case sizes may be slightly different so it could have an impact on current packaging. “Some of the transformer manufacturers are making the case sizes slightly larger and that could impact OEMs in the middle of their product life cycles,” said Johnson.
He also advises that purchasers “make sure that everyone in their organization understands that this is mandatory and be prepared to make this move.”
Purchasers may find themselves in a supply crunch due to lead times in November or December if they need a lot of product, Johnson added. “Take a look at it now and decide how you want to make this transition happen. Do you want to purchase a large amount of product late in Q3 and Q4 to get through 2016 or do you want to make the change now?”
“Our customers have different strategies depending on where in the life cycle their products are,” he added.
Also be aware that February is the Chinese New Year, when the standard goes into effect. Many of these power supplies are manufactured in Taiwan and China, and factories shutdown for the holiday, said Johnson. “It’s important to have product shipped well before February 2016.”
In addition, purchasers may want to check with their suppliers to ensure that they are making the move to Level VI products. Due to a lot of capital investment upfront to transition to the new standard, some power supply manufacturers are “getting out of the adapter game. It’s going to be survival of the fittest because not everyone is willing to invest all of that capital upfront to make the change,” said Johnson.