By Pierre Delforge, Natural Resources Defense Council
The U.S. Department of Energy has issued the first-ever energy efficiency standards for uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs), the battery backup systems that automatically kick in to keep electronics running when the power goes out or falters. These new standards mean billions in savings for American consumers and businesses, while reducing energy waste and pollution that damage our health and environment.
Although not a headline-grabber like new standards for water heaters or air-conditioners, reducing energy waste in uninterruptible power supplies can actually save a surprising amount of energy and money—even more so as UPS units are needed for an ever-increasing number of devices, from desktop computers to the myriad other electronic products that are proliferating in our homes and businesses.
According to the Department of Energy (DOE), the new UPS standards announced yesterday will mean 0.94 quadrillion BTUs—or 87 billion kilowatt-hours—of electricity saved over the next three decades, which in turn will save consumers and businesses up to $3 billion on their electric bills. This represents an energy savings of 15 percent relative to the electricity consumption of these products in the absence of an efficiency standard. Of equal importance, the reduced energy consumption will avoid 49 million metric tons of cumulative climate-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution being pumped into the atmosphere during that time period. As our friends at the Appliance Standards Awareness Project note, the standards will save enough electricity to power 7 million U.S. homes for a year and eliminate the amount of annual pollution from 10.3 million cars.
The decision on UPS standards comes after the devices were split out of the latest regulations released earlier this year on making battery charger systems more efficient. The guidelines will go into effect three years after being published in the Federal Register. They will not be published for at least another 45 days to provide time to make any necessary technical corrections. The 45-day rule only permits correction of technical errors; it doesn’t allow for any weakening of the standard.
The energy efficiency standards were among five released by the DOE on Wednesday. Others were announced for pool pumps; portable air conditioners; walk-in coolers and refrigerators; and the “packaged boilers” that heat commercial and multifamily buildings. All were released on schedule and in line with the legal process for establishing energy efficiency standards, and their regularly scheduled review for strengthening, which is part of a federal standards program saving Americans money since the bipartisan enactment of the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act of 1987 signed into law by President Reagan.
Initial Focus During the Bush Administration
In 2007, President George W. Bush signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) that directed the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop efficiency standards for battery charger systems—the battery and other battery charging-related components in products such as cordless power tools, vacuums, telephones and other battery-powered electronics. Initially to be included in those standards were UPSs, which keep devices functioning when the power fails so they can be properly shut down without losing data.
In 2012, DOE determined that UPSs needed their own test procedures and split them into their own rulemaking category. DOE previously adopted a final rule for general battery chargers in May 2016.
Making UPSs More Efficient
The DOE’s analysis shows a variety of technology options that manufacturers can use to improve the efficiency of their products, including more efficient semiconductor materials and electronic components, digital signal processing, variable speed fans, and transformer-less UPSs.
But the DOE does not prescribe how manufacturers should make their products more efficient. Like all national energy efficiency standards, these are being set in a performance-based manner, allowing manufacturers the flexibility to innovate and make even better products for consumers as we’ve seen time and time again from efficiency standards. These results will appeal to all political persuasions, and is another demonstration of smart policies that harness American innovation to save consumers and businesses money, making the United States more competitive, and growing our economy while reducing energy waste and unnecessary pollution.