November 22, 2014

Energy Standards for Refrigerators Upgraded

Advocacy groups and appliance manufacturers hailed a 25 percent increase in energy efficiency for most new refrigerators, starting in 2014, thanks to new efficiency standards that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced today, continuing a 40‐year trend of improving energy efficiency for this essential home appliance.

The groups said the new standards are the first step in the department’s implementation of the
recommendations they proposed to DOE in July for new minimum efficiency standards, tax credits and ENERGY STAR incentives for smart appliances affecting six major categories of home appliances.

According to the proposed rule, a typical new 20‐cubic‐foot refrigerator with the freezer on top would use about 390 kilowatt hours (kwh) per year, down from about 900 kwh/year in 1990 and about 1,700 kwh/year in the early 1970s. On a national basis, the new standards would, over 30 years, save 4.5 quads of energy, or roughly enough to meet the total energy needs of one‐fifth of all U.S. households for a year. Over the same period, the standards will save consumers about $18.5 billion. DOE will finalize the standards by year’s end, and they take effect in 2014.

“This big step forward for refrigerator efficiency proves that the well of innovation leading to energy savings is very, very deep,” said David B. Goldstein, energy program director for the Natural Resource Defense Council and winner of a MacArthur Prize for his work on refrigerator efficiency. “These standards pave the way for manufacturer investments in a next generation of products that demonstrate ever‐increasing energy and cost savings.”

Based on the July agreement, home appliance manufacturers and efficiency, environmental and consumer advocates have agreed to jointly pursue with Congress and the administration new standards for six categories of home appliances (refrigerators, freezers, clothes washers, clothes dryers, dishwashers and room air conditioners), a recommendation that ENERGY STAR qualification criteria incorporate credit for Smart Grid capability and a package of targeted tax credits aimed at fostering the market for super‐efficient appliances.

As part of the new refrigerator standards, ice maker energy consumption also will be reflected in product energy‐use ratings, giving consumers a better way to gauge actual energy use when making a choice among refrigerators.

“Even though refrigerators have become much more energy efficient, they still account for about 10 percent of household electricity use,” observed Alliance to Save Energy Vice President for Programs Jeffrey Harris. “With the new standards, consumers will not only save energy, they’ll also have a better picture of total energy use, because the ratings will include automatic ice makers.”

Several prior refrigerator standards, including those put in place in 1993 and 2001, are also the result of joint industry/advocate agreements.

A table showing the percent energy savings achieved by the proposed standards relative to current standards for select categories and the complete press release can be seen at AHAM.org

The Appliance Rebates Have Begun

According to TWICE, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has approved plans and awarded funding to 50 states and territories for rebates on Energy Star-qualified appliances under its State Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program (SEEARP).

The appliance equivalent of “cash for clunkers” has been allocated $300 million in stimulus funds, which will provide consumers with rebates of between $50 and $200 on energy-efficient refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes washers, air conditioners and water heaters.

The stimulus effort is expected to boost white-goods sales by as much as 20 percent, industry executives have said.

Unlike the auto industry program, trade-ins are not federally mandated under the “Cash for Appliances” effort, although the DOE is encouraging states to incorporate recycling into their programs in an effort to rid the energy grid of old “clunker” appliances.

But the biggest — and most problematic — difference is the state-level implementation, which has resulted in a nationwide patchwork of rules, stipulations and start dates, and an administrative challenge for manufacturers and national and multiregional chains.

For example, several states are limiting their programs to low-income or rural applicants, while others are restricting their rebates to heating and cooling appliances. And many states, such as California and Ohio, require recycling of “clunker” appliances, and others like Florida and Illinois will provide an additional rebate for consumers who dispose of their old appliances in a responsible manner.

To help consumers navigate the maze of varying requirements, dealers are bringing sales associates up to speed on their respective state’s plans, and both retailers and vendors have created dedicated Web sites, such as Sears.com/energystar, that provide program details, tracking tools and links to DOE’s informational site, www.energysavers.gov/rebates.

Specifically, Sears’ sales associates and Web site will:

  • send email notifications to registered customers when state programs go “live”;

  • offer details on the individual state rebate programs, including when and how much will be available, and any guidelines that may apply; and

  • assist consumers with the responsible removal and disposal of their old appliances, as needed.

Similarly, Bosch, the premium majap manufacturer, has created a Bosch Rebate Resource Center site at www.boschappliancerebates.com.

The Energy Department is expected to approve SEEARP plans submitted by all 56 U.S. states and territories, with the first major marketing campaign likely to launch by Presidents Day weekend.

Consumers will be able to receive existent Energy Star rebates in addition to the Cash for Appliance subsidies.

States receiving the most majap stimulus funding include California ($35.3 million), New York ($18.7 million) and Florida ($17.6 million).

Truth in Appliance Energy Labeling

Those yellow energy guide labels we all rely on to pick energy efficient appliances, have come under scrutiny from the US Department of Energy (DOE). As we wrote about in November, manufacturers covet the EnergyStar label and use the yellow sticker to entice buyers.

Those labels may not be as accurate as you think. A review of previous filings for the labels found instances of missing or incorrect information.

The DOE addressed the problem this month by giving manufacturers 30 days to provide accurate information on their products’ energy use. Also, it promised to take a tougher stance to enforce energy-efficiency standards.

The agency said makers of such products as refrigerators, dishwashers and air conditioners have until Jan. 8 to provide the information, which is primarily used to certify that the appliances meet minimum energy-efficiency standards

Will That New Appliance Really Save Energy?

If you are shopping for a new, energy efficient appliance, and thought all you needed to do to was look for the yellow EnergyStar tag, think again.

The Department of Energy has released new findings that show a handful of appliances may not be as energy efficient as advertised because of problems with the “energy star” labeling program.

That little yellow sticker you see on some new appliances is supposed to guarantee an appliance is in the top 25% of energy efficiency, but an internal audit, just released, shows that the Department of Energy has not been properly tracking how the star has been used.

Initially manufacturers would self-report whether their products met the energy star guidelines, but with the new revelations, that’s changing.

Industry watchdogs are quick to point out, despite a few problems, the energy star program is not a washout.

“It’s not like we found rampant cheating and mis-representation in our testing,” said Celia Kuperszmid Leharman of Consumer Reports. “I think that for now that the stickers are pretty reliable, and they’re good comparative things from one product to the next.”

Before you purchase a new appliance, check out the Department of Energy’s consumer’s webpage for news on energy efficient appliances.

Whirlpool gets US Grant for Smart Appliances

Whirlpool has announced that it is the recipient of stimulus funds as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Smart Grid Investment Grant program.

The grant of $19.3 million over a two year period – which Whirlpool will match with its own investments – will help the company accelerate its work to deliver to consumers smart appliances that can connect with the smart grid. For example, the company recently announced that in 2011 it would deliver one million U.S. manufactured smart dryers capable of reacting intelligently to signals from the smart grid by modifying their energy consumption to save consumers money on their home electric bills. In markets where utilities offer variable or time-of-use pricing, these dryers could save a typical consumer $20 to $40 per year, while also benefitting the environment.

“The grants announced today are a great example of public and private partnerships that will create the next generation of energy saving solutions,” said Mike Todman, president, Whirlpool Corporation North America. “Smart appliances combined with time of use pricing offer consumers the greatest ability to save money on energy costs while benefiting the environment.”

In addition, the funds will complement the company’s commitment that by 2015 all of the electronically controlled appliances it produces – everywhere in the world – will be capable of receiving and responding to signals from the smart grid. This commitment is dependent on two important public-private partnerships: the development by the end of 2010 of an open, global standard for transmitting signals to and receiving signals from a home appliance; and appropriate policies that reward consumers, manufacturers and utilities for using and adding these new peak demand reduction capabilities.

Comsumer Rebate Program for Appliances

The US stimulus bill recently signed into law by US President Barack Obama includes a $300 million provision to fund the Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program.

This program will be administered through the 50 US states and will  provide financial incentive to encourage consumer spending and target it to energy savings through consumer rebates for the purchase of Energy Star appliances.

The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) and the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) urge the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to quickly disburse funding to state energy offices for the Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Programs so that consumer rebates will be available for the summer months to purchase ENERGY STAR appliances.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009  will stimulate demand for home appliances, provide consumers with tremendous savings on the initial purchase cost and long-term utility costs of appliances, and will also provide an important environmental benefit by way of a significant decrease in energy consumption.
“Once the states receive funding from DOE for their rebate programs, consumers can begin to benefit
from an immediate savings on the purchase cost of an ENERGY STAR appliance and on utility bills,” said
Joseph McGuire, AHAM President. “AHAM urges the Department of Energy to quickly provide this
stimulus funding to the states so they can get the money into the hands of consumers.”
In a joint letter, AHAM and RILA requested that DOE distribute the funds to state energy offices quickly
and simply and allow existing and new state programs the flexibility to establish programs that meet
regional needs. The associations provided DOE with broad guidelines for releasing the stimulus funds.
AHAM and RILA also believe the benefit should include consumers with non-working appliances and
consumers who are upgrading to energy efficient products before their current appliances cease to
function.

OPEI Concerned About E15 Fuel

The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) has serious concerns with a premature rush to 15 percent ethanol (E15) or other mid-level fuel blends as being suggested by pro-ethanol producers. Without a formal waiver process through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and a continued misinterpretation of test results from a recent Department of Energy (DOE) report, introducing E15 and higher fuels to the marketplace for existing equipment pose serious risks to American consumers and businesses.

The DOE report, in fact, indicates that mid-level ethanol fuels could damage millions of forestry, lawn and garden, and other small engine products currently housed in consumers’ garages, boat slips, warehouses or being used by small businesses. Higher ethanol blends can cause performance irregularities and pose substantial safety and environmental hazards.

“The fact is that the use of E15 and higher levels of ethanol is a complex issue, and it can’t be rushed by efforts that overlook the impacts on consumer safety and economic interests,” said Kris Kiser, Executive Vice President at Outdoor Power Equipment Institute. “OPEI fully supports congressional efforts to increase the use of cellulosic fuels. We can design products to run on higher levels of ethanol.”

But, Kiser points out that existing small-engine equipment will likely experience performance irregularities and possible failure. Therefore the public’s awareness, education and safety should be at the forefront of any discussion of introducing new cellulosic fuel blends.

Added Kiser, “We need to acknowledge that current equipment — including boats, chainsaws, lawn mowers, snow mobiles, motorcycles, generators and other small engine equipment — may be permanently damaged and pose a safety risk if E15 fuel is used. Current equipment is neither designed, built or warrantied for mid-level blends.”

In a new report, independent environmental researcher Dr. Ron Sahu carefully critiques the DOE report that tested a small sample size of legacy vehicles and small non-road engines. DOE’s engine test results (but not the report’s summary) documents why the current push to E15 for existing equipment is not in consumers’ or the environment’s best interest:
Engine exhaust temperatures rose to an extent that may cause premature engine and equipment failure,
Safety hazards dramatically increased due to unintentional clutch engagement caused by high idle speeds,
Products were damaged to the point they could no longer operate, and
Numerous adverse operational issues arose – such as erratic engine and equipment operation, stalling of engines, and dramatic power reduction.

“The DOE study shows that of the 28 engines tested, all 28 had some significant problems with higher ethanol blends that the machines were not designed to operate on,” added Kiser.

OPEI will be submitting a letter to the EPA and DOE urging both agencies to utilize the existing formal waiver process. The process will provide the necessary studies and data to fully understand effects of introducing new fuel types into the marketplace. The studies also will provide information necessary to educate consumers about the use of mid-level ethanol fuels on existing and future products.

“OPEI is not anti-ethanol,” insisted Kiser.” We support congressional efforts to get the U.S. off foreign sources of oil. But, we will not put people’s safety at risk in the process.”

Kiser agrees that given adequate lead-time, outdoor power equipment manufacturers can and will build future products to run on higher than E10, “but we can’t put our customers safety and the economic environment at risk by putting higher blends into current equipment that simply aren’t built to run under those conditions,” noted Kiser.

Kiser also expressed concern that “current equipment on the market is designed to run on E0 to E10 fuel in order to meet EPA emissions and evaporative requirements. Changing the legal fuel may change the emissions profile, making it non-compliant.”

Appliance Energy Standards Might get Stricter

According to the New York Times, The Department of Energy (DOE) is reevaluating its standards for energy efficient appliances and is considering raising the standards for qualification as an energy-efficient appliance.

“I am going to be looking at those because I have become more convinced that they are not as aggressive as they could be,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said at a conference held by the Alliance to Save Energy. “So we will look at making them more aggressive.”

According to the nonprofit Appliance Standards Awareness Project, DOE’s deadlines call for final rules this month for ranges and ovens and commercial clothes washers, with final standards for multiple types of lamps due in June.

There are also a host of proposed standards due later this year, for products such as water heaters and pool heaters.

Chu stressed the key role that energy efficiency in appliances and buildings should play in curbing greenhouse gas emissions. He also emphasized the need to ensure that consumers see efficient appliances and home materials as choices that will ultimately save them money.

Chu also suggested a change in the Energy Star labeling program run jointly by U.S. EPA and DOE.

Floating the idea of a “superstar” category of perhaps the top 5 to 10 percent best performers, Chu said this would allow manufacturers to claim that their products would ultimately save consumers the most money despite higher up-front costs.