Keep the Change with New DOE Proposed Standards for Beverage Vending Machines

Not only did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) release the final Clean Power Plan this week--taking the single biggest action to cut carbon pollution from America's power plants--but the Department of Energy (DOE) also took another step forward toward reaching President Obama's goal of eliminating 3 billion metric tons of carbon pollution through minimum efficiency standards for appliance and equipment by proposing new minimum energy-saving standards for beverage vending machines.

Vending machines are the refrigerated cases that hold cold beverages and dispense them in exchange for money. We might not think about them much unless we want a cold drink on a hot summer day like today. But the proposed standards have the potential to save .22 quadrillion BTU (quads) of energy from more efficient equipment shipped over the next 30 years and avoid 13 million metric tons of carbon pollution--equal to the annual carbon emissions from the energy consumed by more than 1 million homes. This represents about a 39 percent improvement in energy savings from the current standards, which were finalized in 2009.

The energy consumption avoided from this proposal also will lead to huge savings on utility bills of up to $1 billion and given that the utility bills for the electricity that keeps these machines running are paid by the owner of the building where they stand rather than the supplier of the cold beverage, improving the beverage vending machine's energy efficiency will save money for the building owner for years to come. Joanna Mauer describes more about the energy-saving improvments in her blog on the proposed standards.

Some history and perspective

The Natural Resources Defense Council began researching refrigerated vending machines in the 1990s and began pressing for energy-savings standards soon thereafter because making them more efficient would mean fossil fuel-fired power plants didn't need to generate as much electricity - and its associated pollution. At the time, NRDC researchers estimated there were about 3 million beverage vending machines in use nationwide, with that number growing to 4 million today.

The first-ever vending machine standards were finalized in 2009 and became effective in 2012, cutting average energy use by over 40 percent--estimated to save enough electricity to meet the needs of 1.4 million typical U.S. homes for one year and save vending machine owner/operators nearly $500 million over 30 years. The reduction in electricity needed to run the machines was expected to eliminate about 10 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

Following the implementation of those rules, in 2013 the Department of Energy announced it would begin a new round of rule-making, setting a deadline of 2015, again hoping to further reduce vending machine power usage.

Different types, different standards

Then, as now, DOE set standards for two categories of vending machines: those with glass fronts so consumers can see the products inside and are fully cooled, and those typically covered with opaque plastic and only cool the interior box where products are held. At the time, DOE also established a class of combination machines that also have a non-refrigerated portion that vends other non-cooled merchandise, but did not set standards for them. But in the standards proposed yesterday, DOE is recommending minimum standards for these combination machines.

More climate advances

Recently EPA announced deadlines to ending certain uses of heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which are used as refrigerants in applications such as vending machines, car air-conditioners, retail food refrigeration equipment and many others. The new rules issued under the EPA's Significant New Alternatives Policy "SNAP" program in July made the determination to end the use of potent greenhouse gas R-134a as a refrigerant for beverage vending machines. In parallel, EPA has approved several climate-friendlier refrigerants, including propane, that are not only good for reducing HFC emissions, but also can reduce the power needed for some components, resulting in increased efficiency--a double win for the climate.

Also this week DOE issued a proposed update to the efficiency standards for products with rechargeable batteries sold annually in the United States--including everything from cell phones and power tools, to laptops and even golf carts. Together, the California standards already in effect for these products, and these proposed federal standards that extend them to the rest of the nation, have the potential to save consumers more than $2 billion off their utility bills and avoid 12 million metric tons of carbon pollution annually.

Efficiency guru Amory Lovins once said all people want is "a cold beer and a hot shower" and the latest proposed rule from DOE for beverage vending machines is another step forward on using energy smarter, saving money, cutting harmful carbon pollution emissions, and along with EPA rules - both for HFCs and power plants - reduce harmful pollution for years to come all while keeping the drinks cold.