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Stricter Efficiency Standards for Commercial Refrigerators - NC Journal of Law & Technology

Stricter Efficiency Standards for Commercial Refrigerators

On February 28, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy (“DOE”) issued a pre-publication final rule setting stricter energy conservation standards for commercial refrigerators. The DOE’s various efficiency standards—covering over 50 categories of industrial, commercial, and residential appliances and equipment—are a cheap and effective way of protecting the environment, saving manufacturers and consumers money, and encouraging innovation in new technologies.

Appliance efficiency standards arise under the authority of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 and later laws codified in Title 42, Chapter 77, Subchapter III of the U.S. Code, which govern domestic energy efficiency programs. 42. U.S.C. § 6295(o) allows the DOE to promulgate stricter new or amended energy efficiency standards, if doing so would be technologically feasible, economically justified, and would result in a significant conservation of energy.

By this authority, the DOE’s most recent rule amends the standards for new commercial refrigerators and freezers, mandating greater efficiency as measured by maximum daily energy consumption. These standards are largely based on the DOE’s an analysis of available technologies that can curb energy usage. Some of these high-efficiency technology upgrades include: lighting (e.g. LEDs), fan motors and blades, case and panel construction (e.g. vacuum insulated panels), evaporators, defrost systems, and occupancy sensors. For more information, see the discussion beginning on p. 71 of the pre-publication final rule.

By reducing demand for energy, energy efficiency standards are an important complement to other governmental programs aimed at reducing pollution, global warming, and other environmental harms linked to energy production.

The DOE expects these efficiency standards, which should become effective in 2017, to result in significant annualized energy savings, totaling 0.5% of total U.S. commercial energy consumption (as of 2014). These energy savings translate to financial as well as environmental benefits. Over thirty years, the new refrigerator standards are expected to save consumers between roughly five and twelve billion dollars. These efficiency upgrades are also expected to result in a total reduction of 142 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over the same time period—equivalent to the annual emissions of about 30 million automobiles. After factoring in the estimated value of these emission reductions (measured by the “social cost of carbon”) and the costs of meeting these increased standards, the DOE estimated total net benefits in the range of 9.51 to 16.40 billion dollars. See pp. 11–17 of the pre-publication final rule.

The new energy conservation standards for commercial refrigerators are part of a greater effort to promote energy efficiency through the use of new technologies. The DOE estimates that by 2030, its energy efficiency standards for appliances will result in $1.7 trillion in cost savings, and a reduction of 6.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions. By reducing demand for energy, energy efficiency standards are an important complement to other governmental programs (such as emission standards under the Clean Air Act) aimed at reducing pollution, global warming, and other environmental harms linked to energy production.