DOE adopts negotiated efficiency standards for walk-in coolers

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Joanna Mauer

On December 28, 2016, the US Department of Energy (DOE) issued new energy efficiency standards for certain types of walk-in cooler and freezer equipment based on an agreement negotiated by a stakeholder working group. The new standards for walk-ins are the latest example of the success of the negotiated rulemaking process, which has resulted in consensus efficiency standards for equipment such as commercial rooftop air conditioners, beverage coolers, and commercial and industrial pumps.

DOE issued a final rule for new standards for walk-in coolers and freezers back in 2014. However, the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) and others filed a lawsuit which resulted in a settlement agreement. Among other things, the settlement agreement remanded the standards for certain types of walk-in refrigeration systems to DOE for rulemaking using a negotiated rulemaking process. Of the 19 classes of walk-in equipment covered by the 2014 final rule, the standards for 6 were remanded.  

In 2015, a working group comprised of manufacturers, contractors, utilities, energy efficiency advocates, and DOE successfully negotiated new standards for the remanded equipment types. DOE estimates that yesterday’s final rule, which reflects the standards negotiated by the working group, will save about 90 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity over 30 years of sales, which is equivalent to the annual electricity use of about 7 million US households. Combined with the standards for the other equipment types established in the 2014 final rule, total electricity savings for walk-ins will be about 290 billion kWh, or enough to power 24 million US households for a year.

Purchasers of walk-in cooler and freezer equipment will see big savings with the new efficiency standards. DOE estimates that yesterday’s final rule will save businesses up to $3 billion. Combined with the standards established in the 2014 final rule, businesses will save up to $9 billion.

Walk-in coolers and freezers are typically found at supermarkets, restaurants, and convenience stores. They consist of an envelope (the “box”), which includes panels and doors, and a refrigeration system. Walk-ins are often constructed on site, and they are used to temporarily store refrigerated or frozen food or other perishable items. For example, supermarkets store food in walk-ins before transferring it to refrigerated display cases on the store floor.

Walk-in refrigeration systems are generally comprised of a unit cooler located inside the walk-in that absorbs heat from the refrigerated space, and a condensing unit located outside the walk-in that rejects the heat. Yesterday’s final rule includes standards for unit coolers used in both coolers and freezers, and for condensing units used with walk-in freezers.

The new standards for walk-in cooler and freezer refrigeration systems will take effect 3 years after publication in the Federal Register.

Note: This new standard will not be officially final until published in the Federal Register. Most likely, final publication will be decided by the Trump administration.