New Rooftop Air Conditioning Standards Save Tons of Energy

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - With summer coming to an end, it’s time for many of us to put away our air conditioners, or shut them down for the season. That takes care of one significant contributor to our monthly energy bill. According to the DOE, air conditioning is responsible for roughly 5% of all the electricity produced in the US. It also accounts for roughly 9% of the energy used in a “typical” home, though, of course, that will vary widely by location. In commercial buildings, where equipment as well as people can have cooling needs, that number can be as high as 14%.

It’s true that here in the Northern Hemisphere, heating exceeds cooling as a portion of our energy footprint. But as we look to the future, much of the world that has yet to be developed is in the South. This portends a major rise in AC demand. According to the PBL Netherland Environmental Assessment Agency, global demand for cooling will exceed that for heating well before the end of this century.

Therefore, this is an excellent time for the US Department of Energy to propose new standards for air conditioner efficiency, since so much new technology is developed and/or marketed here in the US. That means that new designs meeting these higher standards will be available when the anticipated great surge in air conditioning takes place. This complements other energy saving standards we wrote about earlier this month.

The new standard would slash air conditioning energy usage by 30%. While that might not seem like a lot, given the tremendous amount of energy devoted to this sector, it turns out to be the largest energy savings ever achieved by any DOE energy standard*. The new standard is expected to save some 1.3 trillion kWh over its life. Because this new standard is specifically directed at commercial rooftop air conditioning, that amounts to some $16 to 30 billion in savings to businesses.

The standard, unlike its predecessor, rather than evaluating performance under full load, which rarely occurs in practice, relies instead on the integrated energy efficiency ratio (IEER) which measures efficiency under several different conditions. The new standard will require a minimum IEER between 12.3 and 14.8 which is just above the best units available today, though systems rated as high as 21, have already been demonstrated.

“Energy efficiency standards covering a range of products have been one of America’s most successful policies for meeting the nation’s energy needs,” said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. “Thanks to already existing standards, U.S. electricity use will be about 14% lower in 2035. The new commercial AC standards along with other new standards completed this year will add to that record of achievement.”

While these equipment standards will surely be helpful, they fail to incorporate a whole building approach that could leverage opportunities in building design that could also substantially mitigate the need for mechanical cooling.

*Note: For comparison purposes, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE standard issued by the EPA, is expected to save roughly 15 times that amount over its life.

Image credit: Curtis Perry: Flickr Creative Commons