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The Upside of Efficiency Standards

Neil Strother
Jan 29, 2016

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Appliance efficiency standards generate little excitement for most of us. We expect appliances to operate efficiently, and we expect the latest versions we purchase to take advantage of the newest and most efficient technologies. But we don’t give it much thought beyond that.

It’s not that simple, of course. In the United States, there is a standardization process involving U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) officials, appliance manufacturers, utilities, distributors, efficiency advocates, and contractors. The latest milestone in that process comes courtesy of the Appliance Standards and Rulemaking Federal Advisory Committee (ASRAC), which recently approved a set of recommended standards for residential central air conditioning (AC) and heat pump efficiency levels.

Some key parts of the latest standards approved by ASRAC and developed by a DOE-sponsored working group include:

  • Effective January 1, 2023, standards are to achieve at least 7% savings—changes to the test method and equipment rating need to increase savings beyond the nominal change in Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio value.
  • Expected savings of about 300 million kWh over 30 years of sales, which is approximately as much power as is used by 27 million households in a year.
  • Based on current electricity prices, the value of these savings is expected to total about $38 billion in utility bill savings.

It should be noted that some 60% of U.S. homes have a central cooling system, and approximately 19% of these systems are heat pumps. In addition, nearly all new homes are built with central AC.

Some Background

These latest standards have a legacy dating back to 2006, when major improvements in AC and heat pump efficiency took effect, and also from a set of consensus standards from 2011, which took effect last year. According to experts, these combined three rounds of improved standards—those effective in 2006 and 2015 and the upcoming set in 2023—are expected to raise central AC and heat pump efficiency by some 50% in less than 20 years.

Standards may be somewhat dull, and some stakeholders may think the latest ones don’t go far enough. But standards like those mentioned above can have a lasting and broad beneficial effect when it comes to greater efficiency and reducing pollution. The next time the AC or heat pump kicks on, you can thank the organizations responsible for taking the long view in setting and maintaining standards that benefit us all.