American families and businesses considering the purchase of a new major appliance often face a tough decision when it comes to balancing the price tags and operating costs of these products with paying rent and utility bills or making business equipment upgrades. And although they may not realize it at the time, the federal government has their back by helping make those products more efficient and effective.
Through its energy conservation program, the U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE, conducts rigorous standard-setting that allows consumers to know upfront about the energy use of products they buy; guides manufacturers to improve products that save consumers money while using them; and avoids energy waste caused by using less efficient products from competitors. However, any attacks on the DOE’s efficiency standards would harm families and businesses by undermining rules that save them money each time they turn on the electricity or natural gas.
DOE’s efficiency standards achieve huge savings on utility bills and broader benefits
Taken together, the consumer savings achieved by the DOE’s efficiency standards are immense: more than $1 trillion through 2020 for standards finalized by 2016. This means that families and businesses that purchased products among the 60 product types covered by the DOE’s program currently save about $321 per household per year off their utility bills. Those savings will continue to grow to $529 per household per year by 2030 as a result of recent standards set—as long as the current rules are protected. These savings enable businesses to make investments to foster growth and help families pay other household bills, increase their savings, or afford other goods.
Big consumer savings: DOE efficiency standards by the numbers
Efficiency standards set since 1987 will:
- Save $1 trillion through 2020 and more than $2 trillion through 2030
- Save nearly 21 trillion kilowatt-hours, or kWh, of electricity by 2020, or the amount all U.S. households would use in 16 years
Standards set in 2016 alone will:
Attacks on energy efficiency do not add up
Due to the timing of their finalization, some efficiency standards may fall under Congressional Review Act attacks—an oversight tool that gives Congress 60 days to review rules before they take effect—but these specific issues are emblematic of broader attacks on the energy conservation program. In the past year, the DOE finalized new standards for battery chargers, ceiling fans, dehumidifiers, and air compressors. Together, these four final rules will save more than 263 billion kWh. This adds up to the amount of energy used in 2015 by more than 24 million homes in the United States and equals the amount of carbon pollution from operating more than 39 million cars in one year.
Although the energy and cost savings alone make finalizing these rules worthwhile, each standard tells a larger story that reflects how the energy conservation program works for all Americans. For example, the DOE’s battery chargers standard builds on standards set by California and Oregon, effectively harnessing the power of state laboratories to establish a level playing field across all 50 states. Setting such federal standards helps manufacturers by implementing uniform rules across state markets, which avoids the cost of building products that must meet different guidelines and specifications.
The DOE’s ceiling fan standard showcases the best of the department’s technical and policy expertise. The first ceiling fan standard, implemented in 2005, brought about features now taken for granted, such as settings for speed controls and separate controls for ceiling fan light kits. The recently finalized rule now focuses on performance and comfort and allows for flexibility in meeting the goal; manufacturers can do so through design changes or by incorporating more efficient components, such as motors.
Another example of good government at work appears in the dehumidifier standard-setting process. The newly finalized standard draws on updates to how DOE engineers test products by considering their frequent use in the basements of homes—areas that often feature cooler air temperatures. Developed by the DOE in 2015, the dehumidifier test procedure illustrates how the department’s standard-setting process, which operates on a six-year cycle, incorporates new information about product uses, as well as updates to technology as manufacturers innovate.
Air compressor standards, whose common applications range from pumping air in car tires to inflating basketballs, point to the DOE’s reliance on data-based analysis to set new rules. After examining various categories of compressors, the DOE determined that setting standards for certain categories, such as reciprocating compressors, was not economically justified at the time. This is in part because the DOE had limited data on their performance, selling prices, and share of the U.S. market. This decision highlights how the department relies on solid scientific and engineering analysis to perform its regulatory role, even when efficiency advocates argue for higher standards.
Protecting DOE efficiency standards is a high priority
There are still more opportunities for energy savings, both through the DOE’s normal process of renewing and updating standards as technologies in the market become more advanced and by covering additional products. Protecting the recently finalized efficiency standards and enhancing the entire energy conservation program are priorities for families and businesses alike. Above all, energy efficiency standards have the potential to capture even greater savings, a promise that will help all Americans make ends meet—and one with clear support across the political spectrum.
Luke H. Bassett is the Associate Director of Domestic Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress.