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President's New Energy Efficiency Standards Will Lead to Big Electricity, Consumer, Carbon Savings

Kit Kennedy

Posted May 9, 2014 in Curbing Pollution, Green Enterprise, Living Sustainably, Solving Global Warming, U.S. Law and Policy

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Note: DOE has now issued the final efficiency standards for walk-in coolers and freezers and electric motors discussed in this blog.  For an analysis of the final savings numbers, see this blog post by my colleague Andrew DeLaski at the Appliance Standards Awareness Project.

President Obama is slated today to announce his administration’s latest actions to move forward on curbing global warming emissions and scale up clean energy, but it won’t be from the Oval Office or Rose Garden.  Instead, he’ll do it from a Walmart store in Mountain View, CA, where like thousands of big box stores across the U.S., groceries stay cool in huge refrigerators and conveyor belts powered by electric motors in the back of the store move supplies from one place to another. 

And so a big box store is an apt setting for today’s announcement.  The president, in addition to announcing a major new solar power initiative, will also unveil important new energy efficiency standards for walk-in coolers and freezers and for electric motors 

What are energy efficiency standards?

Under federal legislation signed into law by President Reagan, and expanded and strengthened many times since on a bi-partisan basis, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is charged with setting minimum energy efficiency performance levels for dozens of household appliances and commercial products – everything from refrigerators to air conditioners to dishwashers to commercial heating and cooling systems.  These efficiency rules, which DOE periodically updates, are a winning proposition for consumers, energy savings and the planet’s climate health.  Standards mean that products use less energy to provide the same level of service and comfort, and therefore we need to generate a lot less electricity, which avoids a whole lot of dirty fossil fuel power plant emissions.  

For that reason, last June President Obama made energy efficiency standards a cornerstone of his Climate Action Plan.   He set a goal of achieving 3 billion metric tons of carbon pollution reduction by 2030 from energy efficiency standards established during his presidency.  Since then, DOE has issued nine proposed and five final energy efficiency standards. When combined with the rules previously issued under this administration, these standards are on track to account for cumulative reductions of over 2 billion metric tons of carbon pollution, or about 70 percent of the President's goal – and there’s much more to come.   As President Obama observed last June, energy efficiency standards “aren’t all that sexy” but they are a cost-effective carbon buster.

Walk-in coolers and freezers

Walk-in coolers and freezers, those insulated refrigerated spaces that are generally large enough that someone can walk inside them, are often found in the back storage area of a store or restaurant to keep large amounts of refrigerated or frozen food fresh before it’s put out for display or served to customers. Requiring them to waste less energy will help reduce utility bills for supermarkets and other businesses.

Today’s standards will require walk-in coolers and freezers to achieve higher energy efficiency performance levels through approaches such as improved insulation and better compressors and condensers.  While as of this writing the final rule hasn’t been released yet, based on DOE’s earlier proposal, savings from today’s standards should be in the neighborhood of 5.4 quads of energy for equipment sold between 2017-2046, which is close to 15% of the total energy consumed in the United States in one year. These energy savings would result in an estimated at $24 billion in net savings for businesses and pollution reductions of 220 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Electric Motors

Electric motors covered by today’s rule consume about half of all the electricity used by industry in the United States. That’s because across the United States, buildings and industry employ electric motors like these for everything from fans and pumps to elevators, conveyor belts, escalators and other applications.  And that’s why the President’s announcement today on motor efficiency is so important.    

These electric motor standards should take a big bite out of U.S. energy consumption. In fact, over 30 years, based on DOE’s earlier proposal, we estimate that the motor standards will save around seven quads of energy— that’s roughly equivalent to 1 trillion kilowatt hours of electricity, enough electricity to power almost every home in the United States for a year.  And over 30 years, they’re estimated to save consumers approximately $23.3 billion total. Add to that cumulative carbon dioxide reductions of nearly 400 million metric tons—about the same as taking 82.5 million cars off the road for a year—and you’ve got an impressive package. These new standards could also have impacts felt across the globe, where U.S. standards are influencing overseas manufacturers to improve the efficiency of their motors, too.

What’s more, we expect that these standards will be set at levels supported by both motor manufacturers and efficiency advocates, including NRDC. When you have advocates and manufacturers agreeing on efficiency standards for 50 percent of the U.S.’s industrial electricity use, that’s a big deal!

And so, today, standing in a big box store, President Obama will announce important progress for energy efficiency, our cheapest, cleanest way to power the United States.  While this part of his announcement may not grab the headlines, today’s efficiency standards for walk-in coolers and freezers and electric motors will cut costs for businesses and consumers, making stores and industries more competitive, and will help slash the carbon pollution that threatens our earth and our health.    

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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