Appliance Standards Change the World in 2015 – Quietly  

Dec. 23, 2015
Appliance standards don’t get the attention of international climate talks in Paris or renewed U.S. solar tax credits. Yet they have a profound impact on the environment and energy economy, particularly the historic standards announced last week by the U.S. government.

Appliance standards don’t get the same attention as international climate talks in Paris or renewed U.S. solar tax credits. Yet they have a profound impact on the environment and energy economy — especially the historic standards announced last week by the U.S. government.

The Department of Energy (DOE) issued new standards for rooftop air conditioners and commercial warm air furnaces that will reduce energy use by 1.7 trillion kWh over 30 years of sales of the equipment.  To put that in perspective, that’s almost as much energy as created by all the coal burned in the U.S. to generate electricity in a year, according to groups that helped negotiate the new rules.

“These standards are a game-changer for the commercial sector. Industry and advocates worked closely together to help produce the biggest energy savings standards in US history,” said Steve Nadel, ACEEE’s executive director. “These new standards will bring down the cost of doing business and improve bottom lines by letting companies invest money they used to spend on heating and cooling. This will in turn stimulate the economy, create jobs, and bring us closer to the finish line of the president’s climate goals for appliance standards.”

In all, the newest appliance standards are expected to cut $167 billion off utility bills and reduce 885 million metric tons of carbon pollution. The DOE sees businesses, alone, saving $50 billion in energy costs.

The rooftop air conditioner standards will have a particularly broad impact. Rooftop air conditioners, often on big box stores, schools, apartment buildings, restaurants, and offices, will net a typical building owner between $4,200 and $10,100 over the life of a single AC unit. And those savings are likely to be multiplied several times for a single building. A typical box store, for example, may have 20 AC units, say the groups. The commercial warm air furnaces often are installed with the AC units.

“DOE is ringing in the holiday season with truly monumental energy and economic savings,” said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. “Huge energy bill savings, enormous emissions reductions, and a clear regulatory roadmap will spread good cheer to the businesses that pay cooling bills, to the environment, and to the manufacturers that make these products.”

The rooftop air conditioner standards will take effect in two phases. Minimum efficiency must increase by about 10 percent as of Jan. 1, 2018, and by 25-30 percent as of Jan. 1, 2023. Standards for new warm air furnaces become effective in 2023.

“Industry and advocates worked closely together to help produce the biggest energy savings standards in US history.”

Appliance standards often are cited as part of the reason U.S. electricity consumption is leveling off after years of growth. They harken back to the mid-1970s with the first standards created in California when Ronald Reagan was governor. A lot of action has occurred on the federal level in recent years during the Obama administration, with standards for 40 new household and commercial products.

As a result of household appliance standards, clothes washers now use 70 percent less energy than they did in 1990; dishwashers 40 percent; air conditioners 50 percent; and furnaces 10 percent, according to the DOE.

The DOE finds that standards put in place since 2013 will save consumers over $1.7 trillion through 2030. And the latest standards issued last week bring the U.S. more than two-thirds of the way to achieving the goal of reducing carbon pollution by 3 billion metric tons. This is equivalent to cutting more than a year’s carbon pollution from the entire U.S. electricity system, according to the federal agency.

The savings from appliance standards are particularly impressive since they do not require us – the consumer –  to do much of anything. It all happens at the manufacturing plant, where the appliances are made. Efficient appliances do the same work using less energy.

Credit for new appliance standards

Just as appliance standards receive little public fanfare, so do those who work hard negotiating them. So here is 15 minutes of fame for the group that the DOE convened to create the latest standards: California Investor-Owned Utilities (Pacific Gas & Electric Company, San Diego Gas & Electric Company, Southern California Edison, and Southern California Gas Company), Appliance Standards Awareness Project, Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, Trane/Ingersoll Rand, Lennox, Rheem Manufacturing Company, Air Conditioning Contractors of America, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Mitsubishi Electric, United Technologies Corporation, Underwriters Laboratories, Goodman Manufacturing, Emerson Climate Technologies, Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association, Inc., Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute.

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About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

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