They dribble out regularly — Energy Department rules or “standards” that require ever improving levels of energy efficiency for dishwashers, refrigerators, and much more.
On Thursday, though, the Department dumped what it is describing as the “largest energy-saving standard in history” and one that “will save more energy than any other standard issued by the Department to date” — a standard governing commercial air conditioners and furnaces. These devices consume a gigantic amount of energy across America because, well, they keep us comfortable in large buildings.
“It’s over 10 percent of all the commercial space energy, it covers heating and cooling for roughly half of commercial space,” said Ernest Moniz, secretary of energy, on the announcement of the regulation.
Accordingly, making these devices more efficient can thus really move the needle, and the new standard, says the department, will translate into $ 167 billion in saved costs for businesses over the life of the standard, as well as 885 million tons fewer carbon dioxide emissions. (That’s just shy of a gigaton, or a billion tons.)
“The amended energy conservation standards being adopted for these equipment would result in the significant conservation of energy and be technologically feasible and economically justified,” the new rule states.
The new standard was actually produced through what Moniz calls a “consensus process” involving industry, labor groups, and environmentalists. A number praised the action Thursday.
“They really came out with the most favorable ruling for all parties involved,” said Terry Johnston, vice-president and chief operating officer for Lennox International, a large maker of industrial air conditioners and other products. Johnston said that while Lennox will have to create some new products to comply with the standard, it has adequate of time to do so.
“These standards are a game-changer for the commercial sector,” said Steve Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. “Industry and advocates worked closely together to help produce the biggest energy savings standards in US history. These new standards will bring down the cost of doing business and improve bottom lines by letting companies invest money they used to spend on heating and cooling. This will in turn stimulate the economy, create jobs, and bring us closer to the finish line of the president’s climate goals for appliance standards.”
As the quotation suggests, it’s hard to interpret this move outside of the context of the Paris agreement, struck Saturday due in significant part to high levels of U.S. engagement and diplomacy. Now the Obama administration has come home and immediately ushered in a big move that will, over the long run, make us a lower-emitting country.
What makes the rule the biggest ever, according to the Energy Department, is the total amount of energy that it saves over the lifetime of the standard, which would be 15 quads — short for a quadrillion (a one with fifteen zeros after it) British thermal units, or BTUs. A BTU is defined as “the heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.”
Just to give some sense of scale – in 2012, the entire U.S. used 97 quads of energy.
The Obama administration has launched new efficiency standards covering more than 40 products since taking office, and the net amount of greenhouse gases that these standards will prevent is over 2 gigatons, or billion tons, by the year 2030, according to the department. The new standard arrives in this midst and boosts the entire group significantly.
“We think we’re on track to get to, or very close to, 3 gigatons of C02 cumulative up to 2030,” says Moniz. He notes that after 2030, even greater savings will kick in.
In 2013 alone, the U.S. emitted 5.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide.
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