New standards will narrow the efficiency gap for ceiling fans

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Joanna Mauer

Today, the US Department of Energy (DOE) finalized the first efficiency performance standards for ceiling fans. The new standards, which can be met with low-cost improvements, will reduce ceiling fan energy consumption by about 40% relative to the least-efficient fans available today while maintaining the availability of all types of ceiling fans.

DOE initiated the rulemaking for ceiling fans more than 3 years ago and held public meetings in 2013 and 2014 before issuing a proposed rule in late 2015. Today’s final rule completes a process to establish minimum efficiency performance standards for ceiling fans that will deliver large energy savings and savings for consumers.

Currently-available ceiling fans have a huge range of energy efficiency performance. Just among ceiling fans that meet the current ENERGY STAR specification, the most-efficient fans are more than five times more efficient than the least-efficient models when operating at their highest speed.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct) established prescriptive standards for ceiling fans, which require that ceiling fans have adjustable speed controls, for example. However, there are currently no efficiency performance standards for ceiling fans. The new standards issued today establish minimum energy efficiency levels, expressed as airflow delivered in cubic feet per minute (CFM) per unit of power consumption in watts (W).

The efficiency of ceiling fans can be improved by using more-efficient motors and fan blades and by simply optimizing the fan design such as by adjusting the blade pitch.

DOE estimates that the purchase price of residential ceiling fans will increase by only about $11 with the new standards and that this additional cost will be covered by energy bill savings in less than 2 years. Ceiling fans meeting the new standards sold over 30 years will reduce national electricity consumption by about 200 billion kilowatt-hours, an amount equal to the annual electricity consumption of about 17 million US households, and net savings of $4.5-12.1 billion for purchasers.

While the new standards will require improvements to the least-efficient ceiling fans, much larger savings are possible. The standards for residential ceiling fans can be met using more-efficient conventional induction motors that can reduce power consumption by about 10%. But the most efficient fans on the market today use advanced brushless DC motors, which can cut power consumption in half. Although DOE did not adopt standards for residential ceiling fans based on brushless DC motors, the large savings they deliver could provide the basis for an updated ENERGY STAR specification.

Most ceiling fans have flat blades, although some have “unconventional” blades such as blades in the shape of a palm leaf, which are generally less efficient than flat blades. DOE specifically constructed the potential efficiency levels, including those adopted in today’s rule, such that they could be met by all types of ceiling fans including those with unconventional blades. In addition, today’s rule exempts “highly decorative” ceiling fans, which are defined as fans incapable of spinning at high speeds or moving very much air.

The new standards for ceiling fans will take effect in 3 years.