More Efficient Refrigeration – A Cool Way to Save $3 Billion

Credit: DOE

This blog post was written by my colleague Rachel Fakhry, MAP Fellow and participant in the DOE negotiated rulemaking.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) finalized energy conservation standards yesterday for six classes of refrigeration equipment for the walk-in coolers and walk-in freezers (commonly called walk-ins) found in America’s restaurants and stores, wrapping up the final chapter of a task that saw a number of twists and turns.   

Finalizing efficiency standards for walk-ins required a lawsuit, a settlement, a negotiation, and has now concluded with a happy ending. In fact, the new standards are the result of a negotiated rulemaking between the DOE, industry representatives, and energy efficiency advocates completed last year. Amending the standards for the six refrigeration classes by way of a negotiated rulemaking was part of the settlement agreement reached in July 2015 by the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) and DOE (for more information on the back story, refer to our earlier blog).

This energy efficiency standard was among five released by DOE yesterday.  Others were announced for pool pumps, portable air conditionersuninterruptible power supplies (battery backup systems that automatically kick in to keep electronics running when the power goes out or falters); and the “packaged boilers” that heat commercial and multifamily buildings. All were released 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.

Although DOE announced the new standards, their effective date occurs three years after their official publication in the Federal Register. The standards will not be published for at least 45 days to provide time to make any necessary technical corrections. The 45 day review period only permits correction of technical errors; it doesn't allow for the weakening of a standard.

Walk-ins are large refrigerated coolers and freezers found in almost every restaurant, supermarket, and convenience store in the country to temporarily store frozen food and perishable goods, and the final standards are expected to save billions of dollars and kilowatt-hours of electricity.

In fact, the standards released yesterday will save 90 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity over 30 years of sales, equivalent to the annual electricity use of about 7 million U.S. homes. They would also avoid 46 million metric tons of harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions during the same period, equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of nearly 10 million passenger vehicles driven for one year.

In addition to these environmental benefits, businesses stand to reap big savings from the new standards, as they are expected to provide up to about $3 billion in savings above the costs of purchasing the improved equipment. Businesses would be able to redirect those billions of dollars to new investments and creating additional domestic jobs.

Essentially, yesterday’s action adds six amended standards back into the full set of walk-in standards finalized in 2014 (which established separate standards for the three major components that comprise walk-ins—i.e. doors, panels and refrigeration systems). (For more details, see here.)  

The amended standards were developed through a negotiated rulemaking process that included a wide range of stakeholders including leading equipment manufacturers and efficiency advocates, including NRDC. The standards’ finalization is a testament to the effectiveness of negotiated rulemakings for working through complex and challenging concerns, and reaffirms once more how successful cost-effective minimum efficiency standards are in saving energy and netting economic benefits to residents and businesses. And now the significant environmental and economic benefits expected from the new walk-in standards will add to an already-impressive total.

The new standards will take effect three years from now. Businesses will then only have access to more efficient coolers and freezers, decreasing their electric bills. And their reduced electricity use means  we all will  benefit from less power plant pollution and a healthier environment.