By Lauren Urbanek, Natural Resources Defense Council
It was a big year for appliance and equipment energy efficiency standards, with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) releasing 11 new or updated standards in 2016, ranging from battery chargers and pool pumps to ceiling fans and portable air conditioners. Together, these new standards will save consumers nearly $75 billion on their utility bills and avoid the need to generate 1.4 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity over the next 30 years of shipments—more than all of the electricity used in U.S. homes in a year.
In addition, these standards will avoid nearly 800 million metric tons of climate-warming carbon pollution emissions. That’s equivalent to the amount of carbon emitted in a year from 233 coal-fired power plants.
DOE has been setting energy efficiency standards for appliances and equipment since 1987, when President Reagan signed the bipartisan enabling legislation into law. Every standard released in 2016 was the culmination of a multi-year process run by the Energy Department, which took into account comments and feedback from industry, energy efficiency supporters, national labs, and the general public. Standards tend to be performance-based, which means manufacturers have complete leeway to design their product any way they want, as long as it meets the specified target for its energy use. Manufacturers are able to innovate in ways that are best for their businesses and best for consumers.
The standards for central air conditioners, pool pumps, walk-in coolers and freezers, and miscellaneous refrigeration equipment were all set through a negotiated process that included manufacturers, efficiency advocates, DOE, and other stakeholders. During these negotiated rulemakings, participants dig into every aspect and come up with a solution that everyone can agree upon.
The remaining standards were developed through DOE’s well-established rulemaking process, which consists of in-depth analysis and substantial opportunity for public comment. In most cases, standards take effect three years after their publication in the Federal Register, though some of the negotiated rules have a slightly longer timeframe to allow manufacturers adequate time to adjust their product lines.
A number of these standards also are subject to DOE’s error correction procedures, which were established in early 2016. Rules for ceiling fans, air compressors, uninterruptible power supplies, portable air conditioners, walk-in coolers and freezers, and commercial packaged boilers have a lag time of 45 days between their announcement and when they become final by being published in the Federal Register. This period allows for the correction of a narrowly defined set of technical errors—which pushes the publication of some of these rules into the next administration.
If no error is found, then the rule should be published promptly. If an error is discovered, it is supposed to be fixed and the rule is published within 30 days. The error correction procedure does not give DOE or others the broad authority to question the validity of the rule, or make other substantive changes—only to fix any mistakes.
Here’s a quick look at each of the standards finalized in 2016, with links to our in-depth blog posts about each.
About two-thirds of homes in America stay cool by using central air conditioners. This standard was set through a negotiation between advocates, manufacturers, and DOE, and builds off prior efficiency standards for this equipment. Once the new rule goes into effect, this equipment will save about 7 percent more electricity than the current standard and will be 50 percent more efficient than when the first national standards took effect in 1992. Cumulatively, the standards will cut electricity use by 340 billion kilowatt-hours over 30 years of shipments, which is equivalent to the power used to cool U.S. homes for more than a year and a half. This is a great example of the incremental cost-effective savings that are achievable for many types of equipment when existing standards are updated and further improved.
There are about 8.5 million pools in the United States, located everywhere from Hawaii to Michigan—and they all use a pump to circulate the water through the filter to keep it clean and fresh. Swimming pool pumps meeting the new standard will use 70 percent less energy than many pool pumps on the market today, and consumers with in-ground pools will save more than $2,000 on average over the 4- to 7-year lifetime of the pump! This is the first national standard for this product, and the standard was set through a negotiation between advocates, manufacturers, and DOE.
About 80 million U.S. households have at least one ceiling fan. This standard, the first performance-based standard for ceiling fans, meaning fans will not be permitted to use more than a certain amount of energy. The standard will reduce ceiling fan energy use by about 26 percent. Homeowners can expect to save about $25 over the life of the fan, and businesses that use large fans will save about $128. With so many ceiling fans in the United States, the utility bill savings will really add up for customers and avoid the need to generate a significant amount of electricity.
Approximately 1 million portable air conditioners—standalone, moveable cooling units that are not permanently installed in walls and windows—are sold each year. Historically, portable air conditioners have been energy hogs with performance that is worse than room air conditioners, since they have never before had to meet an energy efficiency standard. The new standard will cut energy use by about 20 percent and save consumers an average of $125 over the life of the product.
This is the first-ever national standard for battery chargers, which already number about 2 billion in America’s homes and businesses. The standard largely mirrors the one already in place in California. More than 500 million battery chargers are sold each year to power everything from cell phones to portable tools and other electronics that are crucial to our daily lives. The new efficiency standard will make them about 10 percent more efficient.
Dehumidifiers are the big boxes that are tucked away in many homeowners’ basements to remove excessive moisture levels and prevent mildew. They are found in 13 percent of U.S. homes and since they are often run 24/7, the new standard will save consumers up to $140 each year. The energy savings for portable dehumidifiers, which make up about 95 percent of the market, will pay for themselves in less than a year in many cases.
This standard covers wine coolers or beverage centers, which are found in almost 10 percent of U.S. households. Consumers will save up to $265 over the lifetime of these products. This standard was set through a negotiation between energy efficiency advocates, manufacturers, and DOE.
Air compressors are found in commercial and industrial products, like robots used for manufacturing or large paint sprayers. If you’ve used one of those machines at gas stations to put more air in your tires, you’ve interacted with a compressor. This is the first-ever national standard for this equipment. Businesses upgrading to new equipment will see a payback through reduced energy costs in 2.5 to 5 years, well within the 13-year lifespan.
Uninterruptible power supplies are battery backup systems used to keep equipment running when the power goes out, and are used in a variety of equipment including computers and other electronic devices. There are about 40 million uninterruptible power supplies in use today, with about 8 million shipped each year. The standard will generate a 15 percent savings in electricity use, and this is the first-ever national standard for this product.
Walk-in coolers and freezers are found in every supermarket, convenience store, and restaurant across the country. These standards, which cover six classes of refrigeration systems used in this equipment, were set through a negotiation between advocates, manufacturers, and DOE They add to a 2014 rule which established separate standards for walk-in doors and panels. Under the new standards, consumers of walk-in refrigeration systems will save up to $3,300 over the life of the equipment.
More than a quarter of the nation’s commercial floor space is heated by packaged boilers. These business customers will save between $200 and $36,000, depending on the type of boiler. The new rules require raising the efficiency from 80 percent efficiency to 81 to 88 percent efficiency. With this improvement, the boilers will convert more of the incoming fuel to useful heat.
In addition, DOE reviewed the standards for direct heating equipment and dishwashers and found that no new standard would be technologically feasible and/or economically justified at this time.
The combined impact of these standards is huge and far-reaching and will benefit consumer and businesses for years into the future.