First Regional Standards for Air Conditioners, Furnaces Released

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) last week established the first-ever regional standards for central air conditioners and furnaces, as well as strengthened national standards for heat pumps.

A diverse coalition of consumer, manufacturing, and environmental groups praised new energy efficiency standards, which are based on a joint recommendation submitted by the group in 2009.

"Climates as different as those of Minneapolis and Miami need different furnace and AC standards," says Andrew deLaski, Executive Director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP). "Until now, we’ve had one-size-fits-all national standards. These new, regional standards are a major breakthrough that will benefit consumers and the environment."

Once the standards take effect, a typical new air conditioner in the South will use about 40% less energy, and a typical new furnace in the North will use about 20% less than before national standards were established in the late 1980s.

According to DOE’s analysis, improvements to air conditioner and heat pump standards will save 156 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity over 30 years, or about enough to meet the  electricity needs of all the households in Indiana for three years, while delivering net savings of more than $4.2 billion to U.S. consumers.

The furnace standards will save 31 billion therms of natural gas, or about enough natural gas over 32 years to heat all the homes in New York State for more than 11 years and save consumers $14.5 billion.

"The agreement on which the new DOE rule is based is another great example of industry and advocacy groups collaborating to save energy and improve the environment," says Stephen Yurek, President and CEO of the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), one of the organizations that negotiated the agreement. "It represents a major step forward in the nation’s drive to increase energy efficiency. It will save energy and will provide industry with greater certainty in the marketplace, which enables more investment, enhances global competitiveness, and preserves jobs," he says.

The energy savings from the DOE standards also will deliver big benefits for the electric system, the environment, and public health. Improved air conditioner efficiency will reduce hot-summer-day electric demand by about 4,000 MW, or roughly the output of 13 large, gas-fired power plants.

Global warming carbon dioxide emissions will be cut by up to 143 million metric tons over 30 years, an amount about equal to the annual emissions of 25 million passenger vehicles. Power plant emission of mercury and smog-forming nitrogen oxides will also be cut.

Bipartisan legislation passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee earlier this year also included standards based on the groups’ 2009 agreement. However, even with this DOE announcement, a bill will still be needed since an additional key provision of the agreement can only be done via legislation.

It would allow states to include even higher minimum efficiency levels for heating and cooling systems in their building codes for new homes. The Senate bill also includes standards for several other products based on similar consensus agreements.

"Now that DOE has rolled out the first regional standards for heating and cooling equipment, we urge Congress to complete the picture by acting on the consensus agreement regarding new home building codes, as well as the other standards," says Kateri Callahan, President of the Alliance to Save Energy. "We all know that constructing buildings efficiently ‘from the ground up’ is the easiest, most cost-effective way to ensure that owners of new homes reap the benefits of energy efficiency while reducing their carbon footprints."

The new furnace standards will apply beginning in May 2013 and the new air conditioner and heat pumps standards in January 2015. The original national furnace standards took effect in 1992 and today’s rule is the first update. Initial national standards for air conditioners and heat pumps took effect in 1992, and a previous DOE update became effective in 2006.

"With summer approaching, the high cost of energy is once again on consumers’ minds as their air conditioning needs increase," says Steven Nadel, Executive Director of ACEEE. "These new standards continue a long-term trend that has dramatically raised the efficiency of these essential products, delivering huge benefits for consumers."

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