Council praises new efficiency standards for heating and cooling equipment that account for regional patterns of energy use

The Council is pleased that new federal energy-efficiency standards for air conditioners and furnaces, issued in June, account for regional differences in energy use. It’s the first time standards for those appliances have taken a regional approach since they first were adopted in the early 1990s.

The Council was part of a diverse coalition including consumer, manufacturing, and environmental groups that developed recommendations in 2009. The new standards, issued by the U.S. Department of Energy, also strengthen efficiency rules for heat pumps.

"The new national standards recognize that different parts of the country have different needs for air conditioning and heating, which is better than the old one-size-fits-all approach," Council Chair Bruce Measure said.

The Council’s Northwest Power Plan, which is implemented by the federal Bonneville Power Administration, takes a similar approach, accounting for regional differences in energy use in assessing opportunities for improved energy-use efficiency.

"Equipment standards in energy-efficiency programs run by Bonneville for its utility customers are climate-specific, but federal standards take precedence," Measure said. "The new, climate-specific federal standards will better align with our regional practices and logic -- colder areas use more heat and therefore can justify more efficient furnaces."

The new furnace standards take effect in May 2013 and the new air conditioner and heat pump standards in January 2015. The existing national standards for furnaces, air conditioners and heat pumps date to 1992, with the only update being to heat pumps in 2006.

Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, called the new standards "a major breakthrough that will benefit consumers and the environment."

Once the standards take effect, a typical new air conditioner in the South will use about 40 percent less energy and a typical new furnace in the North will use about 20 percent less than before national standards were established. According an analysis by the Department of Energy, air conditioners and heat pumps built to the new standards will save 156 billion kilowatt hours of electricity over 30 years, or roughly the annual equivalent of the output of two large natural gas-fired power plants. The net electricity savings have a value of more than $4.2 billion over that time, and the furnace standards alone will save 31 billion therms of natural gas, saving consumers some $14.5 billion, according to the Energy Department.

The new standards are posted at the Department of Energy website.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council is a compact of the states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington and is directed by the Northwest Power Act of 1980 to prepare a plan to assure the Northwest region an adequate, efficient, economical, and reliable power supply while protecting, mitigating, and enhancing fish and wildlife of the Columbia River Basin affected by hydropower dams.