Impact of energy efficiency standards in the US

Donald Elliott from Covington & Burling LLP writes an informative article on The National Law Review website about the quiet success of energy efficiency standards. It would be good to see an equivalent article on the success of the Ecodesign Directive in Europe.


Energy Efficiency Standards A Quiet Success

Electricity consumption in the United States has generally declined in recent years, due in part to the quiet success of several energy efficiency standards. In 2013, for instance, the average amount of electricity used in American homes fell to 2001 levels, despite consumers using more products that require electricity.

Building on this success, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced at various times throughout 2014 several new energy efficiency standards for consumer and commercial products. Most recently, DOE issued pre-publication final rules setting new efficiency standards for both general service fluorescent lamps (GSFLs) and automatic commercial ice makers (ACIMs). GSFLS, fluorescent tubes that feature pins at one or both ends for installation, are generally used to light homes, offices, and industrial sites. DOE estimates that the new standards will reduce CO2 emissions by 90 million metric tons and save more than $15 billion in electricity bills through 2030. DOE estimates that its updated energy standards for ACIMs–which now include machines that produce “flake” or “nugget” ice–will reduce CO2 emissions by 4 million metric tons and save nearly $600 million in electricity costs through 2030.

These two rules, which go into effect in 2018, are DOE’s ninth and tenth energy efficiency standards finalized in 2014. Their announcement marks DOE achieving its goal of finalizing ten energy efficiency standards in 2014 as part of the White House’s Climate Action Plan. The DOE estimates that the ten standards–which apply to dishwashers, water heaters, and other products–will collectively reduce CO2 emissions by over 435 million metric tons and save $78 billion in electricity bills through 2030.

Additionally, 2014 saw the final phase-out stage of certain types of light bulbs. Originally a bipartisan success story, one aspect of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 established increased minimum energy efficiency standards for various types of light bulbs that were to be phased in from 2012 through 2014. The DOE was poised to begin enforcing the new rules, which effectively ban certain types of incandescent light bulbs, but recent appropriations bills have effectively blocked DOE from enforcing the rules. Light bulb manufacturers, however, have already begun complying with the standards.

Older efficiency standards have also been quietly succeeding. For instance, a new refrigerator meeting the current federal energy efficiency standards would use roughly a quarter of the energy of a refrigerator from 1973, despite offering more storage space and costing significantly less.


3 thoughts on “Impact of energy efficiency standards in the US

  1. This article makes a very important point: purposeful regulations are the single most effective means of improving energy efficiency. But , in so many cases, progress with their introduction is hampered by unthinking politicos, objecting to regulations on the assumption that they are antipathetic to allowing the mysterious “hidden hand of the marketplace” to triumph.

    • Unfortunately, Americans seem to make the argument more eloquently and forcefully. You are absolutely right about the role of purposeful regulations. The word “purposeful” is key. Not all regulations are the same. Not too long ago E3G wrote a note that was included in EiD because they were worried about backtracking on Ecodesign. We should not be having such worries but unfortunately they persist.

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