California Is Setting the Standards: A Continuing Series on the California Energy Commission Process, Part II

Commercial clothes dryer standards: Savings are heating up

Whether washing your clothes at the laundromat, in a dorm or apartment building, or keeping sheets, towels, and other fabrics clean at restaurants, hotels, and hospitals, commercial clothes dryers are everywhere and use a significant amount of energy.

In fact, there are almost 500,000 commercial clothes dryers in California that use almost 200 million therms of natural gas and 321 gigawatt-hours of electricity every year.  That’s enough natural gas to fuel 540,000 California homes and enough electricity to power 138,000 California homes. 

While the federal government sets energy-saving standards for residential clothes dryers to ensure they provide the same level of services but use less energy, no such standards exist for commercial dryers. That’s why the California Energy Commission is considering standards for commercial clothes dryers as part of their current rulemaking for 15 product categories.

If energy efficiency standards are set for all 15 products, they could save Californians $1.2 billion annually on utility bills, benefiting every Californian both directly through energy bill savings and indirectly by reducing the need for dirty power generation that harms human health. Standards established in California, which is home to one in eight U.S. consumers, often set the bar for the rest of the nation because manufacturers do not want to lose out on such a lucrative market.  

There are three types of commercial clothes dryers. Most of us are familiar with the first two varieties: dryers found in multi-family laundry areas (such as a dorm or apartment building) that are typically similar in size to residential units and those used in coin-operated laundromats. The third category is known as on-premise laundromat dryers, such as those in hotels, health care facilities, and laundry service facilities. Commercial clothes dryers come in a wide range of capacities from 20 pounds to over 400 pounds. Residential-sized machines and 30-pound machines are the most common, however, so those are the types being recommended for standards.

Testing and research by California’s investor-owned utilities found energy savings of 2.5 to 8 percent are possible, depending on the type of dryer, at no additional cost. The vast majority of commercial clothes dryers run on natural gas and it is these that are being recommended for standards. There are several technology options that can be used to meet these savings levels, including improving control strategies, adjusting the amount of heat to match the dryer load, and reusing heat from dryer exhaust air.

NRDC supports the energy-saving standards proposed by the investor-owned utilities (PG&E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric)  that would save an estimated 11.7 million therms of natural gas per year once the stock of current commercial dryers fully turns over, reducing emissions equivalent to 62,000 metric tons of carbon pollution. They will also save Californians over $12 million cumulatively once in full effect by cutting gas bills for users of commercial dryers.

California Energy Commission also considering air filter labeling requirement

While it may not be sexy, it will lead to important energy savings

Earlier this summer President Obama noted that while federal energy efficiency standards aren’t “all that sexy,” they result in significant consumer savings and benefit the climate.  Well, if you were to pick the least sexy of all appliance standards topics, it might be air filter labeling. But air filters are an important component of a heating and cooling system that impacts energy use, so they can't be ignored.

Air filters are used in air conditioning and heating systems to remove particles from the air, both to keep them out of the air you breathe inside and to keep them from mucking up your heating and cooling equipment. They’re a part of the air conditioning system that’s easy to forget, but if your electricity bill has been higher than it should be, chances are you should check your air filter, which should be cleaned or changed every month or two during the cooling season.

According to data from the most recent Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS), heating and cooling energy use accounts for approximately 30 percent of residential energy costs in California. A portion of this energy cost can be attributed to airflow resistance in the heating and cooling distribution system, which results in unnecessary energy waste. Air filters contribute to this airflow resistance, causing fans to work harder and increasing the energy use of the system.

There are two elements of air filter efficiency: its effectiveness at removing particles from the air and the pressure drop across the filter (essentially the amount of additional pressure it takes for a fan to push air through the filter). Starting January 1, 2014, California’s building code will require that air filters installed be labeled with both pressure drop and particle removal efficiency. However, it doesn’t require that manufacturers label their products, which is what’s currently being considered by CEC. Labeling air filters with this information will have several benefits:

  • It will enhance compliance with California’s building code by allowing contractors and code inspectors to ensure that the installed air filter meets design requirements.
  • It will provide information on filter efficiency to consumers replacing their air filters.
  • It will reduce construction costs by allowing designers to utilize actual pressure drop data in the design of ductwork.
  • It will enable future improvements to heating and cooling system efficiency by gathering more information on the pressure drop over different filters.

The IOUs estimate that the cost of labeling air filters – 10 cents per filter – will be greatly outweighed by the cost savings of $200 per dwelling from decreased ductwork costs. 

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