Energy Department Rings in the New Year with New Efficiency Standards for Lighting and Ice Makers

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Andrew deLaski

On the last day of 2014, the Department of Energy (DOE) completed new standards for fluorescent tube light bulbs and commercial ice makers, capping a tremendous year of progress for the agency’s efficiency standards efforts. By improving the efficiency of the overhead light bulbs that illuminate millions of offices across the U.S., the new fluorescent lamp standards will cut energy waste and save businesses billions of dollars. The updated commercial ice maker standards will do the same for the millions of restaurants, hotels, and other establishments that use this equipment. As part of the new lighting rule, DOE also decided to leave reflector lamp standards unchanged.

New lighting standards will put a $15 billion dent in office overhead costs

Look up in any office in the U.S. and chances are good that you’ll see overhead tube lighting. The efficiency measures announced by DOE this week are great news for businesses who stand to reap $15 billion in electricity bill savings by 2030. The new standards reduce the energy use of a single lamp by only about 4%, but because tube lighting is so prevalent, the savings add up quickly. DOE estimates that the electricity savings from products sold over a 30-year period will reach about 250 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), or enough energy to power over 20 million U.S. households for a year.

These new standards are one of the biggest energy savers since the start of the Obama administration. In addition to the energy and dollar savings, they will reduce CO2 emissions through 2030 by 90 million metric tons and bring the president closer to his goal of 3 billion metric tons of CO2 reductions from standards by 2030. The tally now stands at 2.1 billion metric tons, an amount roughly equivalent to the CO2 produced by all U.S. households in a year.

Today’s new standards build on impressive long-term progress in lighting efficiency. The previous round of improvement completed in 2009 improved the minimum allowed efficiency by 19% for fluorescent tubes. The new standards for fluorescent tube lights will take effect in 2018.

While the national standards promise large energy savings, certain exemptions could undercut them. When Congress enacted the first national standards in the early 1990s, it exempted lamps with a high color rendering index (CRI) rating of 87 or better. At the time, these were very costly lights, but their prices have come down and, since no standards apply, they are now among the least efficient tube lamps on the market. In the rule completed this week, DOE tightened limits on the high-CRI exemption to products that are clearly marketed as meeting the exemption. But high-CRI lamps work fine in most applications, and their sales could increase. If these lamps begin to replace the ones that are covered by standards, the savings from the new standards would be less than expected. DOE should monitor the market and consider options for improving the efficiency of these lights.

As part of the new lighting rule, DOE declined to establish standards for two-foot fluorescent tube lamps. Although most fluorescent tube lights are four feet long, ASAP and our allies argue that two-foot linear lamps are becoming more common. As with the high-CRI lamps, DOE should keep an eye on the sales of these products to ensure they don’t undercut the national benefits expected from the new standards.

Fast food restaurants, hotels to get more efficient ice makers with new standards

The new efficiency standards for commercial ice makers will reduce energy consumption by 10–25% for the most common machines, saving businesses nearly $600 million on electricity bills by 2030. Taking effect in 2018, the new standards are a good step towards improved efficiency for commercial ice makers, which can consume more electricity than a home.

Commercial ice makers are commonly used in fast food restaurants, hotels, hospitals, and convenience stores. Typical large ice makers can use as much as 18,000 kWh of electricity per year, while an average U.S. household consumes about 11,000 kWh in a year.

DOE estimates that the new standards will net a typical owner of a commercial ice maker $200 to $800 in savings over the life of the machine, depending on machine type and size. On a national level, ice makers meeting the new standards sold over 30 years will reduce U.S. electricity consumption by about 19 billion kWh, equivalent to the annual electricity use of 1.7 million U.S. homes.

The current standards for commercial ice makers apply only to machines that make “cube” ice and that can produce between 50 and 2,500 pounds of ice per day. In addition to strengthening the standards for these products, the new rule also expands coverage to larger machines with capacities up to 4,000 pounds, and for the first time covers machines that make “flake” or “nugget” ice. Flake ice is often used to display fish, while nugget ice—also known as chewable ice—is softer than cube ice and is becoming popular for serving drinks in food-service establishments.

The efficiency of ice makers can be improved by using technologies like higher efficiency compressors and motors and by increasing heat exchanger surface area.

In addition to saving energy, the new standards will reduce the amount of water that is wasted during the ice-making process. DOE estimates that the standards will save 37.5 billion gallons of water over 30 years of sales.

Standards for reflector light bulbs left unchanged

As part of the lighting rule completed this week, DOE also decided to leave the standards for incandescent reflector lamps unchanged. ASAP and our allies had advocated for improved standards, since higher levels are cost effective for buyers. But DOE found that increased standards could have the effect of causing consumers to select certain types of reflector lamps currently not covered by any standards, so chose to not make any improvements.

As we described in our previous blog post in response to DOE’s proposed standards last spring, a congressional budget rider has prevented DOE from improving efficiency for currently exempt reflector lamps. These lamps include the very common 65-watt “bulged reflector” (BR) lamps and similar products, which emit less than nine lumens per watt. Reflector lamps meeting existing standards emit about twice as much light per watt consumed. ASAP estimates that if these exempt lamps were required to meet the same standards as other reflector lamps, consumers would save another 4.5 billion kWh annually, or enough electricity to power about 370,000 households each year. With Congress renewing the light bulb rider in the recent appropriations bill, efficiency standards for some reflector lamps will continue to lag.

A very good year for new efficiency standards

Altogether, DOE completed 10 updated standards in 2014, covering product ranging from large electric motors to walk-in coolers to the tube lights and ice makers covered by this week’s standards. As DOE touted in its press release, the combined effect of all the new standards completed in 2014 will save consumers and businesses about $78 billion on electricity bills by 2030 and cut carbon pollution by 435 million metric tons. That’s an overall record of energy saving for 2014 that’s worth celebrating.


Thanks to my colleagues Anthony Fryer and Joanna Mauer who contributed to this post.