The US is tightening regulations for equipment supplied with an external power adapter in the box. The changes will affect supply-chain professionals worldwide, explains CUI’s Jeff Schnabel.
Rocketing global sales of electronic equipment such as notebooks, printers, scanners, monitors and portable industrial devices have brought literally billions of external power adapters into circulation worldwide. Unfortunately, the low average efficiency of these units combined with high no-load power consumption means that historically they have been a threat to world energy resources.
In 2004, the California Energy Commission introduced the first mandatory regulations governing the efficiency of external power supplies. Over the following years US, EU, Chinese, Australian, Canadian and other authorities introduced similar regulations.
As efficiency regulations have been adopted worldwide, the International Efficiency Marking Protocol has also emerged. This has its origins in work by the US Energy Star program, which aimed to harmonise regulatory initiatives internationally. Accordingly, external power supplies are now marked with a roman numeral, which shows the efficiency level of the unit.
Naturally, current regulations around the world have developed over the years, along with the international marking protocol. The US and Canada currently require that all external power supplies shipped across their borders meet the level IV specifications, while the EU is currently the only authority to demand compliance with level V.
In February 2014 the US Department of Energy (DoE) announced it would be adopting the even more stringent level VI specification as a mandatory requirement for any external power supply manufactured after 10 February, 2016 and shipped into the US. Any original equipment manufacturer (OEM) marketing a product with an external power adapter in the US can only ship adapters carrying the approved level VI marking, regardless of whether the products originate in the EU, Asia or elsewhere.
It is also important to note that the regulation will be applied to external power adapters based on the date of manufacture, rather than the date of shipment. Level IV and level V adapters will continue to be permitted with shipments into the US as long as the date code is earlier than 10 February, 2016.
Although level VI is currently only applicable to goods shipping into the US, external power supply manufacturers typically adjust their product portfolios to meet the highest mandatory standard. This satisfies the needs of OEM customers, who can gain operational efficiency advantages and minimise potential for supply-chain errors by specifying a common power supply for units of a product type shipped to any market in the world.
Furthermore, based on historical trends, the EU, Canada and Australia are likely to follow suit soon afterwards in adopting these more stringent regulations. Hence, it is important for OEMs globally to keep up to date with the latest regulations.
What’s the difference?
For a single-voltage AC/DC power supply, the transition from level V to level VI requires no-load power to decrease from 0.3 to 0.1W for ratings up to 49W, while average efficiency is required to increase by around five per cent.
The move to level VI represents more than just a tightening of the specifications. The standard is more complex and includes separate categories for AC/DC and AC/AC power supplies, with additional distinctions between units with output voltage above and below six volts.
Moreover, level VI introduces a new category for multiple-output external power supplies and also expands scope to include power supplies over 250W for the first time. This extends the reach of efficiency regulation to include a wider variety of industrial appliances, such as air conditioners, signage, portable exhibition equipment and lighting.
It is worth noting that the level VI standard applies only to what are known as direct power supplies. These are external power supplies that can function in the end product without a battery. An indirect power supply is not a battery charger but cannot operate the end product without the assistance of a battery and is outside the scope of level VI.
Under the current level IV and level V standards, as enforced in the US and EU, certain types of external power supplies are exempted. Level VI withdraws some of these exemptions, in particular for power supplies that are made available as service or spare parts.
On the other hand, power supplies for products that must be listed with the US Food and Drug Administration, or EU authority, as medical devices continue to be exempt. In addition, the level IV/V exemption applying to power supplies for chargers of rechargeable battery packs or that charge batteries of primarily motor-driven equipment has been restricted to units with output voltage less than three volts and output current of 1,000mA or greater.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that enforcing efficiency regulations for external power supplies has saved around $2.5 billion and cut CO2 emissions by more than 24 million tons every year for the past decade. Clearly, authorities hope to gain even greater benefits through tougher standards going forward. The US Department of Energy expects to save a further 47 million tons of CO2 emissions by moving from level IV to level VI.
CUI began introducing level VI compliant adapters in late 2014, to help customers ensure compliance with the new legislation well before the enforcement date. In the future, new power supplies from CUI will feature further advanced energy-saving technologies designed to help reduce power consumption across the entire load curve, maximising performance under all operating conditions. The aim is to enable OEMs to differentiate their end product with efficiencies even higher than the mandatory levels.
The new level VI efficiency standards for external power supplies will be mandatory initially only in the US, but in practice will require OEMs worldwide to adjust their purchasing and supply-chain arrangements.
Since it is usually more economical and straightforward to ship products with the same power supply type to all markets globally, it makes sense to ensure that all units comply with the highest standard currently in force. The nature of the regulatory landscape is such that other important territories such as the EU are likely to upgrade their own legislation to mandate level VI compliance soon. CUI therefore advises that OEMs should therefore begin preparing immediately for the shift to level VI.