Gas Furnace Energy Efficiency Standards: A Smart New Approach

The Department of Energy (DOE) this week formally requested more input on analyzing a new approach to energy efficiency standards for natural gas furnaces, and although it’s been 25 years since they’ve been significantly updated, taking some additional time makes great sense.

The approach, which NRDC and other stakeholders proposed to DOE in July, would set standards that vary depending on a furnace’s heating capacity, with higher efficiency and higher total energy and cost savings for larger models, and lower efficiency and lower up-front cost for smaller models. DOE published an initial assessment this week, seeking further stakeholder input. It’s great to see DOE act so promptly to launch the formal process to assess the two-tier approach.

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Good News: DOE Updates Energy Efficiency Regulations to Include Grid-Enabled Water Heaters

Based on the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2015 (EEIA) enacted by Congress earlier this year, the Department of Energy has now updated its regulations to define a new product class for “grid-enabled water heaters.” That’s good news.

These are electric resistance household water heaters with communication and control capability that allow utilities to use them as low-cost thermal batteries, heating the water when power is cheaper and cleaner, and deferring heating when power is expensive. Advanced controls even offer the prospect of providing the grid with ‘ancillary services’ like frequency regulation and load following, reducing the need for power plants to ramp up and down as total energy consumption changes during the day. This can make the electricity system more flexible and ready to use renewable generation that has variable output, like wind and solar.

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Household Boiler Energy Efficiency: Standards and Gas Utility Programs

Federal energy efficiency standards for household boilers – which are used to heat about 14 million U.S. homes – are on the agenda for a public discussion at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) this week. The current standard for steam and hot water boilers was set in 2008, and DOE is considering an update based on improvements in technology and changes in energy markets since then.

Proposed DOE standards leave lots of potential savings on the table

DOE considered several technologies for higher efficiency, including use of condensing boilers. ‘Condensing’ refers to the fact that so much of the heat from fuel combustion has been usefully captured that the water vapor produced from combustion condenses into liquid water. DOE estimates that an updated standard that includes condensing natural gas-fired hot water boiler technology could save a large amount of energy, about 1.2 quadrillion Btus for boilers manufactured between 2021 and 2051, and deliver net consumer savings of $3.4 billion. (For context, the United States consumes about 100 quads of energy annually.) However, DOE did not recommend standards to obtain those savings levels.

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Manufactured Housing: Even Greater Affordability, Amenity and Energy Savings on the Way

(This is a reposting of a guest blog I wrote for Next Step Network. You can find that and other guest blogs here, as well as a wealth of information on Next Step’s leading work toward more affordable, efficient manufactured housing.)

New frontiers in energy efficiency, comfort, and affordability in manufactured housing are on the near horizon thanks to smart, concerted effort from leading electric cooperatives, factory homebuilders, and lenders. And there’s clear recognition among industry leaders of the benefits of the U.S. Department of Energy’s eagerly anticipated new energy efficiency standards for the type of housing that’s home to millions of Americans. (Manufactured housing is factory built under federal construction regulations called the “HUD Code,” rather than state building codes.)

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New Water Heating Efficiency Standards Deliver Great Savings, But There’s More to Be Done

For those of us working toward smarter, cleaner, cheaper water heating for households, there’s a lot happening in Washington, D.C. With about 15 percent of U.S. household energy use going to heat the water we use to wash dishes and take showers, even small improvements make a big difference.

First, new energy efficiency standards for water heaters issued by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) take effect Thursday (April 16). These standards were finalized in April 2010, giving the water heater industry time to plan and make necessary investments to manufacture the more efficient versions as of April 16. DOE estimates that these new standards will net consumers savings of up to $8.4 billion over the next 30 years. Total energy savings through 2045 are an estimated 2.6 quads, about as much energy as used by 15 million households annually. NRDC is a longstanding and strong supporter of federal energy efficiency standards, and had pushed for these standards to be adopted. It’s good to see them go into effect.

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A Positive House Hearing on Grid-Enabled Water Heaters

I had the pleasure of testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce – Subcommittee on Energy and Power last week. The topic was proposed legislation to grant “grid-enabled water heaters” a carefully designed exemption from the strong and important federal energy efficiency standards for water heaters that take effect next month. Grid-enabled water heaters are large electric resistance water heaters with communication and control capability that allow them to be used in an electricity system’s energy storage or demand response program.

NRDC is a longstanding and strong supporter of federal energy efficiency standards, and we continue to support the latest energy efficiency standards for water heaters, which will save energy and lower consumers’ bills. We have only rarely supported exemptions from standards. But here we explored the opportunities that grid-enable water heaters may offer for environmental and consumer benefit, found the case persuasive, and worked intensively with manufacturers, utilities, and other efficiency and environmental organizations to develop legislation that would deliver on the opportunity while not undermining the benefits of strong efficiency standards.

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Finally: A Big Step in the Right Direction for Furnace Energy Efficiency Standards

(This is an update of a blog posted 2/10/15 and to correct the record regarding historical manufacturer support for revised efficiency standards and the consumer savings estimated by DOE.)

The Department of Energy (DOE) has just proposed a long-delayed energy efficiency standard for the natural gas furnaces heating millions of U.S. homes. This is good news for our heating bills and the environment, but it could be even better.

The DOE proposal would set a national minimum efficiency level of 92 percent for gas furnaces beginning in 2021 – which means 92 percent of the gas burned in the furnace is converted into useful heat — and deliver cumulative net consumer savings of up to $19 billion. DOE estimates that the 2.78 quadrillion Btus saved by the proposed standards would deliver cumulative emissions reductions of 137 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

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Manufactured housing: A strong consensus for energy savings and affordability

Major energy efficiency gains and improved home affordability are within reach for new manufactured homes in America following a strong consensus agreement reached by the Manufactured Housing Working Group. (The U.S. Department of Energy established the Working Group earlier this year, with the expectation that diverse stakeholders were willing and able to work together, to learn from each other, and to negotiate a good outcome; that expectation has proven right.) With over 60,000 new manufactured homes being built this year, and sales heading back up to pre-recession levels, this is a big win for consumers and the environment.

The consensus agreement, if adopted by DOE over the next few months, will deliver energy savings of 20 percent to 35 percent relative to the current, outdated energy-saving standards. The new standards will achieve these savings through more insulation, better windows, reduced air infiltration, and other well-proven practices.

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A Good Step toward more Affordable and Efficient Manufactured Homes

The Department of Energy took an important step toward more affordable, energy efficient manufactured homes today when its standards advisory committee established a formal working group in which consumers, manufacturers, utilities, environmental advocates and other stakeholders will work together on updated energy-saving standards for a type of housing that is home to nearly 20 million Americans.

“Manufactured homes” are the modern counterpart to “mobile homes,” which are old units built before 1976, when the Department of Housing and Urban Development first established construction standards. Unlike other homes, a manufactured home has a permanent chassis (a structure to which wheels can be attached), making it readily transportable. (“Modular homes” are also factory-built, but don’t have a permanent chassis, and are regulated by states in the same way as site-built homes.) While many lower-income Americans live in inexpensive manufactured homes, these factory-built units can be of high quality, with high-end amenities and performance.

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New Efficiency Standards for Distribution Transformers from DOE

The federal government yesterday issued new efficiency standards for the electricity distribution transformers that bring power to every U.S. home and business. The new standards are an important step in the right direction, although far greater savings are achievable. To achieve the maximum cost-effective energy savings, DOE will need to revisit the standards in the next few years, as the industry adjusts to making higher efficiency products.

The new standards, developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, apply to the metal boxes mounted on utility poles and installed in buildings to reduce the higher voltages on the distribution network to the 110 or 220 volts used by appliances and equipment. Because nearly all electricity from the national power grid flows through one of the 40 million such transformers nationwide, even small increases in efficiency add up to large savings.

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