Pool Pumps, Portable A/Cs Get First Efficiency Standards

Credit: DOE

For those who live in cooler climates, taking a dip in a pool and needing to use an air conditioner may be things we only dream about as we bundle up to ring in the new year. But the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has been thinking a lot about the 8.5 million pools in the country and the million-plus portable air conditioners sold every year. The agency yesterday released the first-ever energy efficiency standards for the pumps that circulate pool water, keeping it filtered and clean, and for portable air conditioners, which are standalone, portable cooling systems that are not permanently installed in walls or windows.

These two energy efficiency standards were among five released by DOE yesterday. Others were announced for uninterruptible power supplies (battery backup systems that automatically kick in to keep electronics running when the power goes out or falters), walk-in coolers and freezers found in supermarkets and restaurants across America, and the “packaged boilers” that heat commercial and multifamily buildings. All were released in line with the legal process for establishing energy efficiency standards or 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.

Pool Pumps

There are more than 5 million in-ground and 3.5 million above-ground pools in America, in places ranging from the warm climates of California and Florida to chillier locations like Massachusetts, Ohio, and Michigan. It takes a lot of energy and costs a lot of money to circulate the roughly 20,000 gallons of water in the average in-ground pool: upwards of $500 in electricity each season (or more, if the pool is in operation year-round). In many instances, a pool pump is one of the top energy hogs in a home, but unlike other high-energy-use equipment, pool pumps have not previously been required to meet a federal energy efficiency standard. The pumps currently used to circulate the water in many of these pools waste immense amounts of energy, because they use outdated, inefficient technology. However, efficient pumps are widely available in the marketplace and the technology is tested and proven.

The efficiency levels set in the pool pump standard were developed through negotiations between industry, efficiency advocates, and the DOE that concluded in June with a unanimous agreement. That agreement led to the standard officially released yesterday. Once it goes into effect in 2021, the efficiency standard for pool pumps will generate a surprisingly large amount of energy savings—which goes to show just how much energy these pumps have been wasting.

The new efficiency standard will save the owner of an in-ground pool more than $2,000 on average over the 4 to 7 year lifetime of the pump—and that’s accounting for any increase in purchase price of the pump. This is about a 70 percent energy savings compared with many of the pumps on the market today. For both in-ground and above-ground pools, any incremental cost will be paid back through energy savings to the pool owner in less than a year. And those savings add up across the country. The standard levels agreed upon in this negotiation will save about 400 million megawatt-hours of electricity over the next 30 years of shipments. That’s equivalent to the electricity used by more than 30 million households in a year—or by all the homes in California, Texas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Georgia, Wyoming, and Florida combined. 

In addition, more than 202 million metric tons of climate-warming carbon pollution will be avoided over the next 30 years of shipments, which is equivalent to the annual emissions from 42 million cars. And these energy and pollution savings will continue for years into the future!

Credit: EPA

The new pool pump standard is particularly noteworthy because it was developed through a consensus negotiation, by a working group that consisted of representatives from pump and motor manufacturers, industry associations, utilities, NRDC and other efficiency advocates, and the DOE. Over the course of 10 months of meetings, the working group took a deep dive into every aspect of the pool pump standard, from definitions to efficiency levels. The efficiency levels ultimately chosen were agreed upon by all members of the working group, representing a broad range of interests. The new standards will result in not only substantial utility bill savings for customers, but also quieter pumps that prolong the life of the filtration and other attached systems.

These standards are yet another great example of the excellent energy (and pocketbook) savings for consumers that can result when industry and advocates work together.

Portable Air Conditioners

The first-ever standard for portable air conditioners was also released yesterday.  These new standards will save consumers an average of $125 over the lifetime of the air conditioner, cut energy use by more than 20 percent compared to the least-efficient products available today, and reduce carbon emissions by 25.6 million metric tons, equivalent to the annual emissions from 5.4 million cars. But more savings were available. DOE said it did not choose a higher level of efficiency because it was concerned about product availability in the market and costs to manufacturers.

Credit: Department of Energy

While NRDC advocated for a more stringent standard, it’s still a big deal that portable air conditioners will finally have to meet an energy efficiency standard. Window air conditioners have been subject to a standard for more than 25 years, and since portable air conditioners have not, their performance has lagged behind drastically. Consumer Reports considers them the “cooling choice of last resort” since they’re often used in situations where central air conditioners aren’t present and window air conditioners can’t be used. Since all of the mechanical equipment is in the room being cooled, portable air conditioners may even heat the room more in some cases! The new standard means they will be of higher quality and serve consumers better than they do now.

Summer will be here before we know it, and more efficient pool pumps and portable air conditioners mean fun in the sun with lower energy costs.