Efficiency Standards Quietly Lead to Billions of Energy Bill Savings for Consumers

Part of NRDC's Year-End Series Reviewing 2015 Energy Developments

While most consumers and business owners probably don't think much about the importance of appliance energy efficiency standards in their day-to-day lives, the work done this year to make sure our equipment doesn't waste energy (and increase utility bills) will generate financial and environmental benefits well into the future.

The appliance standard program has been quietly chugging away for decades, saving billions of dollars and cutting pollution. 2015 was no exception: DOE continued to make progress on rulemakings for many product categories. A lot of this work was behind the scenes - negotiated rulemakings, work on test procedures, and data notices - but we are already starting to reap the benefits.

Just last week, the Department of Energy (DOE) formally adopted an efficiency standard for commercialDOE EE standards_04.jpg
rooftop units (air conditioners, heat pumps, and warm air furnaces) that will lead to the largest-ever energy and pollution savings from any single energy-saving rule. This standard is important not just for its historic savings levels and its contribution to President Obama's goal of reducing carbon by 3 billion tons by 2030 through standards finalized during his administration, but also because it was agreed to through a negotiated process that involved DOE, manufacturers, and consumer and efficiency advocates.

As of this time last year, DOE had finalized seven energy efficiency standards. While just four rules have been finalized to date this year, DOE's focus has been on negotiating standards for six product categories: the rooftop units, fans, walk-in coolers and freezers, residential air conditioners, pool pumps, and miscellaneous refrigeration equipment. NRDC was an active participant in all of these rulemakings except for miscellaneous refrigeration category.

Why standards?

Consumers can't tell from the outside whether an appliance or piece of equipment will guzzle more energy than another. Standards ensure a minimum level of energy efficiency, which means utility bill savings and reduces the need to burn fossil fuels to generate energy that would be wasted by inefficient equipment.

Clothes Washers.jpg

Today's typical new refrigerator uses one-quarter the energy than in 1973--despite offering 20 percent more storage capacity and being available at half the retail cost. Compared to their energy use in 1990, household appliances have significant efficiency gains: new clothes washers use 70 percent less energy; new dishwashers use more than 40 percent less energy; and new air conditioners use about 50 percent less energy. Standards implemented since 1987 saved American consumers $60 billion on their utility bills in 2014 alone, and have helped the United States avoid emissions of 2.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in that timeframe, which is equivalent to the annual carbon pollution from nearly 500 million automobiles.

More on Negotiated Rulemakings

DOE's standard rulemaking process involves the publication of DOE's analysis at several stages throughout the process - through requests for information, notices of data availability and proposed rules - with stakeholder comment at each step, This process works well and has been leading to energy savings for decades. Recently, DOE has begun to conduct negotiated rulemakings for some products, in which DOE convenes a committee of representatives of affected parties to negotiate a rule. The negotiation process thus allows DOE to engage in sustained and direct conversations with affected parties (industry, efficiency advocates, etc.) as it develops it analysis and drafts a regulation, allowing for additional iterations, better understanding of technical issues and the analysis on all sides of the table, and the opportunity for creative solutions. Stakeholders can also negotiate privately among themselves and then present DOE with a proposal, which has worked well for a variety of products.


While the standards program has been wildly successful in the 28 years it has been in existence, it faced its share of Congressional challenges in 2015. My colleague Elizabeth Noll outlines in her blog the attempts by some members of Congress to repeal all state and federal efficiency standards for appliances and equipment. Equally as troubling were the more targeted attempts by House Republicans to block progress on DOE's energy efficiency standards for furnaces, ceiling fans, and light bulbs. Thanks in large part to the leadership of House and Senate Democrats and the White House, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at DOE saw a slight bump in funding for FY2016 and efficiency standards were protected for all products except light bulbs.

Looking Ahead

We're gearing up for a busy 2016 for efficiency standards. We'll continue to participate in negotiations for residential air conditioners and pool pumps, and we'll continue to offer comments through DOE's standard rulemaking procedure. We also expect DOE to release a variety of final standards for products ranging from commercial and industrial pumps to battery chargers. Given the Obama administration's continued commitment to finalizing 20 new and updated standards before the president leaves office in January 2017, next year may prove to be the best one yet for appliance and equipment standards.

[Photos courtesy US EPA]

About the Authors

Lauren Urbanek

Senior Energy Policy Advocate, Energy & Transportation program

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