California Could Save $1.2 Billion Per Year by Setting Efficiency Standards for 15 New Products

Making 15 products that touch every portion of our lives more energy-efficient could save Californians a whopping $1.2 billion off their utility bills annually by slashing enough electricity to power every household in Los Angeles.

That doesn’t even include the 50 BILLION gallons of water that could be conserved -- enough to supply a city the size of San Diego for a year. Or the 60 MILLION therms of natural gas we wouldn’t need to heat 130,000 California homes annually, too.

These are the significant energy and water savings the California Energy Commission estimates could come from making things like our computers, toilets and faucets, swimming pool pumps, and some of our lighting work more efficiently.

The commission next week will begin a series of workshops to review the data that industry, utilities and efficiency advocates like NRDC submitted after the agency announced its intention to set new efficiency standards for products in four categories: consumer electronics, lighting, water appliances, and “miscellaneous” items like commercial clothes dryers.

The commission also is considering such related steps as establishing procedures for testing the energy savings of the products, and marking and labeling them with the results so consumers and businesses can tell which products are efficient and which ones are energy hogs.

The impact could be substantial

There is no doubt that setting new standards for these products could have a major effect on energy use in California. The Commission’s figures indicate that requiring all these products to use less electricity, alone, could avoid the need to build three medium-sized, 500 megawatt power plants – and all the pollution they add to our air, including millions of tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide responsible for climate change.

The potential impact varies for each of the 15 products. One of the largest could come from computer desktops and notebooks, which represent the second-largest electronic energy consumption in the United States, after televisions, and on par with computer data centers.

In California, alone, there are about 40 million computers currently in use and they represent 2.5 percent of the state's electricity. And traditional desktops and their screens consume four to five times as much energy as notebooks. Because they have access to unlimited power from the wall outlet, there’s less incentive to conserve energy and as a result, they have not seen the same level of effort and innovation to increase their energy savings.

New standards could change that for computers and these other products being considered:

  • Consumer electronics: Video game consoles; displays (computer monitors, digital picture frames), set-top boxes (such as those used with cable or satellite service) and small networking equipment (like WiFi routers).    
  • Lighting: Fluorescent dimming ballasts, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), and multifaceted reflector lamps.
  • Water: Faucets; toilets, urinals, and water meters.
  • Miscellaneous: Commercial clothes dryers, air filters, residential pool pumps and motors, and portable electric spas (hot tubs).

Why do we need standards?

Although there are exceptions, manufacturers rarely make it a priority to design products in a way that will save consumers money on utility bills. Standards help keep inefficient and energy-wasting products off the store shelves – and money in our pockets over the long-term even if they might slightly raise the upfront purchase price. As an example cited by the Commission notes, an increase of 50 cents to a laptop computer could save $9 in electricity over its lifetime. That’s an 18-to-1 return on the small investment!

For a bigger picture view, the energy efficiency standards that the California Energy Commission set for televisions are saving Californians customers several hundred million dollars a year in the form of lower electric bills – and enough electricity to power over 1 million households.

It’s important to note that when efficiency standards are established for products, manufacturers can choose any way they want to meet them, which often leads to more innovation and lower prices. For example, TV efficiency standards passed in 2009 were a catalyst to cut their energy use by 50 percent, leading to models that have larger screen sizes and more features yet use less energy than their predecessors, and save users several hundred dollars in energy costs over the TV’s lifespan.

The Process

During next week’s workshops, the Commission will be joined by industry and efficiency advocates in reviewing data submitted by those who responded to the agency’s “Invitation to Participate (ITP) in its 2013 appliance standards rulemaking.” Next up will be the July 29 deadline for participants to submit proposals for standards for the products. The Commission will review those – and then issue its own proposed standards for public comments. Although the agency is still deciding which products to set standards for, we are hopeful all 15 will be included. Final standards are expected to be adopted in 2014, and become effective in 2015.

Adopting these standards also will continue to help us meet our goals under California’s clean energy law (AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act) to cut carbon pollution back to 1990 levels by 2020. Consider that California’s standards for televisions will reduce carbon emissions by 3 million tons and the newly approved standards for battery chargers will eliminate an additional 1 million tons.

Imagine what adding 15 new products could do for our air and our pocketbooks!

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