By Lauren Urbanek, Natural Resources Defense Council
While many of us were enjoying the December holidays, the Department of Energy (DOE) was hard at work finalizing a wide variety of appliance standards. These new rules cover equipment ranging from residential ceiling fan light kits and boilers to commercial and industrial pumps and rooftop air conditioners, and will save consumers billions of dollars while preventing several million tons of global- warming pollution.
DOE is required by the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act, a federal statute originally signed into law by President Reagan in 1987, to review and potentially update appliance and equipment energy efficiency standards every six years. The law requires DOE to set the standards at the highest level that is technically feasible and economically justified. With more than 60 product categories covered — representing about 90 percent of home energy use, 60 percent of commercial, and 30 percent of industrial energy consumption – the DOE must periodically review existing standards to determine whether they can be updated in a manner that is cost-effective for both manufacturers and consumers.
In all, DOE finalized 13 rules in 2015, including one for commercial rooftop heating and cooling equipment (air conditioners, heat pumps and warm air furnaces). That single rule will yield the biggest energy and pollution savings of any standard issued since DOE’s Appliance and Equipment Standards Program began more than 28 years ago, and it resulted from a negotiated rulemaking involving DOE, manufacturers, utilities, and consumer and environmental groups, which included NRDC. In some cases, DOE analyzed and evaluated potential standards, then made determinations that no improvement to the standard was justified.
In the final week of 2015, alone, DOE issued final rules for ceiling fan light kits, boilers, beverage vending machines, pre-rinse spray valves, and commercial and industrial pumps. DOE was legally required to issue these efficiency standards by the end of 2015, under a schedule established by Congress.
Standards implemented since 1987 saved American consumers $60 billion on their utility bills in 2014 alone, and have helped the United States avoid emissions of 2.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in that timeframe. That’s equivalent to the annual carbon pollution from nearly 500 million automobiles. The rules finalized during 2015 mean that those savings numbers will continue to grow for years into the future as new, more efficient models are installed. Using less energy reduces the need to burn fossil fuels to generate that energy, making for a healthier planet for all.
Here’s a quick look at some of the final standards released over the past week:
Commercial and Industrial Pumps
The final energy efficiency rule released in 2015 is also a big first: the first time standards are set for commercial and industrial clean water pumps. The new rule will save more than $1 billion and avoid 17 million metric tons of carbon pollution over the next 30 years. The standard covers clean-water pumps ranging from 1 to 200 horsepower, such as those found in heating and cooling systems or municipal drinking water treatment plants. These pumps consume 0.6 percent of all energy used annually in the United States — roughly equivalent to the annual energy use of the entire state of Wyoming. For more details, see my blog here.
Ceiling Fan Light Kits
DOE estimates that the ceiling fan light kits standard will save consumers between $500 and $660 million in energy savings over the next 30 years. Once the updated standard takes effect, light kits will have to meet a minimum efficacy, based on their lumen output. DOE estimates that this change will be very cost-effective, with light kits in residential-type ceiling fans having a payback of 1.2 years – meaning the utility bill savings will offset any increased cost for the light kits. Commercial sector light kits are even more cost-effective, with a payback of just 4 months on average, as they are used more hours per day.
Light kits must meet the new standard whether they are sold with the fan or separately beginning in 2019. Revised standards for the ceiling fans themselves were proposed and look to be finalized in 2016.
About 14 million American homes are heated with residential steam and hot water boilers. The rule released last week does not go as far as advancing the standard to the most cutting-edge condensing technology. As my colleague Robin Roy outlined in his blog post on this topic, this means that a lot of savings are left on the table. However, DOE’s reasoning for taking this approach is sound: while many households would benefit from condensing technology, many would be worse off due to difficult and costly installations or in relatively warm climates. This rule comes with relatively modest energy savings for those homeowners (0.16 quads over the next 30 years, which is equivalent to the total annual energy use of about a million homes). Homeowners collectively will save between $350 million and $1.2 billion in energy costs over that same time frame. We’ll be doing additional analysis on this rule in the next few weeks, so look for more information to come.
Beverage Vending Machines
There are more than 2 million refrigerated beverage vending machines in the United States, and soon, those machines will be more energy-efficient. Thanks to standards issued last week for these machines dispensing refrigerated bottled or canned drinks, starting in 2019 all new models will use around 16 percent less energy than today’s models . This is good news for the hosts of these machines, which include schools, hospitals, airports, hotels and grocery stores. According to DOE, the standards will save between $210 and $510 million in the form of lower electric bills over the next 30 years. They also will save .12 quads of energy (equivalent to the power produced by 2,400 wind turbines) and avoid 7 million metric tons of carbon pollution (equivalent to the annual emissions of 1.5 million cars).
Pre-Rinse Spray Valves
Nearly 1 million food service establishments in the United States use about 51 billion gallons of water each year to remove food from dishes, pots, pans and utensils before they are put in dishwashers, according to EPA. Because kitchens use hot water to rinse dishes, reducing water used by pre-rinse spray valves also saves energy.
The new federal standard of 1.28 gallons per minute beginning in 2019 replaces a maximum flow rate of 1.6 gallons, which will cut energy and water use by an estimated 8 percent while adding no measurable cost to the purchase price of a new spray valve. The standard will save a purchaser more than $500 over the valve’s life-cycle. Nationally, the standard will cut 15.87 million metric tons of carbon pollution over the next 30 years and save 120 billion gallons of water, according to DOE.
All the standards discussed here are performance-based and technology neutral, meaning manufacturers are given an energy target for a given sized machine and they have the freedom to design the machines as they wish. Ensuring that we continue to trim energy waste is an important part of President Obama’s plan to cut 3 billion tons of carbon pollution by 2030 through new efficiency standards for buildings and appliances. For more about the big accomplishments in the appliance standards world in 2015, check out my year-end blog post.