Energy efficiency can deliver big rewards
New federal standards could cut energy bills by about $16 billion by 2030.
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Lighting is a huge energy consumer, too, at 22 percent of total US electricity use, the DOE reported in 2002. Eliminating conventional incandescent light bulbs beginning in 2012, as mandated by the 2007 energy bill, will save an estimated $40 billion, cut the need to build a dozen coal-fired power plants, and slash 50 million tons of CO2 emissions.Skip to next paragraph
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Earlier this month, the DOE unveiled a major lighting-efficiency standard aimed at two types of bulbs: the ubiquitous four-foot and eight-foot fluorescent tubes common in many offices; and incandescent reflector lamps, the cone-shaped bulbs that fit in recessed ceiling fixtures.
DOE estimates that the new lighting rule could save consumers almost $40 billion between 2012 and 2042 and eliminate the need for up to 3,850 megawatts of power-generating capacity.
“These new appliance standards are not a silver bullet; they won’t get you all the way there,” Mr. deLaski says. “But they do represent a historic opportunity for very large energy and dollar savings....”
One key will be whether the standards are tough enough. By law, the DOE must reset appliance standards every few years at the maximum level that is economically justified and technologically feasible.
The Bush administration’s residential furnace standards were seen as unduly weak by states and environmental groups, which sued to block standards that could already be met by 99 percent of the furnaces on the market, deLaski says.
“We’re optimistic the [Obama] administration will revisit what we think was a lousy decision,” he says. Likewise, he anticipates that the DOE will beef up standards for appliances such as commercial clothes washers.
Until recently, DOE had proposed separate standards for top-loading and front-loading machines. That could allow manufacturers of less-efficient top-loading machines to maintain or even increase market share, deLaski says.
Appliance manufacturers at times have declared that tougher standards were too costly for industry and consumers.
Kyle Pitsor, vice president of government relations for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, an industry group, says efficiency gains can be wrung out of products, but sometimes with difficulty and at higher cost.
Osram Sylvania already sells premium-priced fluorescent bulbs that meet the highest possible standard DOE might soon implement. But some company officials say the toughest standard being weighed for fluorescent tube lights is not the most appropriate.
“One concern we have is that legislators are listening to all the press releases about what future technology can do, but not paying attention to real life,” says Susan Anderson, energy relations manager for Osram Sylvania.
Many residential customers, she notes, have older fluorescent fixtures that are incompatible with high-efficiency bulbs, so the toughest standard would force homeowners to replace not just bulbs, but fixtures as well.
Technology experts at Sylvania say they can make lighting more efficient but that technical hurdles are getting higher. “We’re reaching the limit in gaining savings from the lamp alone,” says Martin Zachau, vice president of research and development. “A lot of future potential energy savings is really more in the electronics than the lamp itself. It’s a growing challenge.”
But the spate of tougher appliance standards are needed to help the US deal with its energy challenges without breaking the bank, says Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Efficiency policies are “a key strategy for keeping the cost of climate change legislation to modest levels.”