photoNew energy efficiency standards for air conditioners, furnaces and heat pumps should save consumers billions of dollars in reduced energy costs, according to a coalition of consumer, manufacturing, and environmental groups.

The new energy efficiency standards just released by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) establish the first-ever regional standards for central air conditioners and furnaces, as well as strengthened national standards for heat pumps.

“Climates as different as those of Minneapolis and Miami need different furnace and AC standards,” said Andrew deLaski, Executive Director of the Appliance Standards Awareness

Project (ASAP). “Until now, we’ve had one-size-fits-all national standards. These new, regional standards are a major breakthrough that will benefit consumers and the environment.”

Once the latest updated standards take effect, a typical new air conditioner in the South will use about 40% less energy, and a typical new furnace in the North will use about 20% less than before national standards were established in the late 1980s.

According to DOE’s analysis, the improvements to the air conditioner and heat pump standards announced today will save 156 billion kilowatt hours of electricity over 30 years, or about enough to meet the total electricity needs of all the households in Indiana for three years, while delivering net savings of more than $4.2 billion to U.S. consumers. The new furnace standards will save 31 billion therms of natural gas, or about enough natural gas over 32 years to heat all the homes in New York State for more than 11 years and save consumers $14.5 billion.

Major step

“The agreement on which the new DOE rule is based is another great example of industry and advocacy groups collaborating to save energy and improve the environment,” said Stephen Yurek, President and CEO of the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), one of the organizations that negotiated the agreement. “It represents a major step forward in the nation's drive to increase energy efficiency. It will save energy and will provide industry with greater certainty in the marketplace, which enables more investment, enhances global competitiveness, and preserves jobs,” he said.

The energy savings from the new DOE standards also will deliver benefits for the electric system, the environment, and public health. Improved air conditioner efficiency will reduce hot summer-day electric demand by about 4,000 megawatts, or roughly the output of 13 large, gas-fired power plants. Global warming carbon dioxide emissions will be cut by up to 143 million metric tons over 30 years, an amount about equal to the annual emissions of 25 million passenger vehicles. Power plant emission of mercury and smog-forming nitrogen oxides will also be cut.

"These standards are a triple win: a win for consumers, a win for public health, and a win for the environment," said David Goldstein, Energy Program Co-Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "Under the new standards, air conditioners will still keep homes cool on hot summer days but will use less electricity, particularly during high demand days. This will lower electricity bills and the potential for brownouts and blackouts and will also reduce the amount of deadly air pollution that causes 'ozone alert' or 'red alert' days that can lead to serious health problems and even premature death. Furnaces and heat pumps that meet the new standards will heat homes using less energy, while lowering energy prices for all consumers due to decreased demand."

These standards will also protect low-income households, most of whom are renters dependent on their landlords to provide the heating system. “These new regional furnace standards will ensure that landlords install efficient systems, which will make tenants’ heating bills much more affordable,” said Charlie Harak, Managing Attorney of the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) in Boston.