The US Department of Energy made several major moves this week, starting with a conditional $2 billion loan to Redwood Materials to help it build its new battery recycling facility in Nevada. But that was just for openers. DOE also made major new announcements that effect the energy efficiency of household appliances and wind turbine manufacturing.
DOE Updates Appliance Efficiency Standards
Those labor saving devices we all take for granted in our homes — refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, and clothes dryers — are responsible for about 5% of the electricity used in American homes. For the past 40 years, the Energy Department has set energy efficiency standards for those appliances that have gradually made them more functional while using less electricity to perform their household chores.
Today, the typical new refrigerator uses 75% less energy than its 1973 counterpart while offering more useful features and 20 percent more storage capacity. Today, washing machines use 70% less energy than in 1990 and offer 50% more tub capacity. The new proposed rules will continue this trajectory of innovation and savings, DOE says in a press release dated February 10.
“With today’s proposals, we’re building on a decades long effort with our industry partners to ensure tomorrow’s appliances work more efficiently and save Americans money,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “Over the last forty years, at the direction of Congress, DOE has worked to promote innovation, improve consumers’ options, and raise efficiency standards for household appliances without sacrificing the reliability and performance that Americans have come to expect.”
The proposed updates to the appliance efficiency rules are expected to go into effect in 2027. DOE says the new rules could save consumers more than $60 billion over the following 30 years. Households using new refrigerators and clothes washers will save an estimated $425 on their utility bill over the average life of the appliance with these standards in place and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 233 million metric tons — an amount equivalent to the combined annual emissions of about 29 million homes.
The rules, once adopted, will be implemented by the Building Technologies Office, which is currently responsible for minimum energy conservation standards that apply to more than 60 categories of appliances and equipment. The standards are accessible to manufacturers and the public at the DOE Appliance and Equipment Standards Program homepage.
Appliance Industry Push Back
According to the Washington Post, DOE is required to conduct regular reviews of appliance efficiency standards by the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. Although it is not required to tighten the standards, it usually chooses to do so.
The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers would like DOE to abandon its policy of ratcheting up its appliance efficiency standards on a regular basis. On its website, it claims, “More stringent federal efficiency standards are likely to increase costs for manufacturers and consumers without providing meaningful energy savings. Most appliances covered by the program now operate at or near peak efficiency.”
In an email to the Washington Post, AHAM vice president Jill Notini said this is the fifth generation of standards for refrigerators and the seventh for clothes washers. “Standards are a balancing act. Manufacturers must deliver efficient products while still providing the features, performance and affordability that consumers expect.”
But Andrew deLaski, the executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, said, “The best models [of refrigerators and washing machines] have gotten much more efficient while others still use older technologies that cause higher utility bills each month.”
An Age-Old Fight
We have seen this movie before. The plot involves the tension between regulators and manufacturers that dates back generations. The auto industry is famous for howling about emissions standards, air bags, seat belts, crash test standards, and almost every other requirement imposed upon them by the government. It all goes back to a statement by Henry Ford II many years ago when he said, “Safety doesn’t sell.”
The very essence of the debate is the notion that government should get the hell out of the way and let manufacturers do what they do best — manufacture stuff. The very roots of a civil society are involved, with some suggesting that every rule since the New Deal is a form of “government overreach.” How can a bunch of academics and civil servants in Washington possibly know more about manufacturing automobiles and appliances than the people who design and manufacture them?
Automobiles cost twice as much today as they did at the turn of the century and the industry blames every penny of that increase on burdensome government regulations. The essence of the argument is that if people are dumb enough to buy a cheap car that folds up like a cardboard suitcase in a collision, they should be free to do so. This is America, dammit, and if we want to waste energy or drive unsafe cars, we should be free to do so. At the present time, if the recent election results are to be believed, nearly half of Americans agree with that sentiment.
Every story has two sides. The DOE admits these new appliance standards will require the industry to invest upwards of $2 billion to comply with them, but counters that the rebates and incentives baked into the Inflation Reduction Act will more than offset that amount in terms of increased sales. It’s impossible to know who is right, as predicting the future is a fraught exercise under the best of circumstances.
DOE Efficiency Standards For Wind Turbine Manufacturing
Also this week, DOE announced $30 million in funding to advance the cost effectiveness of domestic manufacturing of materials, including lightweight composites, that allow wind turbines to produce power more efficiently. “The wind sector has proven to be a reliable source of clean power for homes and businesses in a variety of geographic areas,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “Investing in next generation materials that will lower the financial barriers to widespread deployment supports President Biden’s domestic manufacturing and clean energy goals.”
The funds are expected to improve the performance of composite materials associated with wind energy technologies and make them easier to manufacture. Specifically, the program is designed to streamline the additive manufacturing (3-D printing) processes for rapid prototyping, tooling, fabrication, and testing of large wind blades. It also seeks to apply additive manufacturing with polymers, metals, ceramics, or composite systems to non-blade wind turbine components like those comprising drivetrains or floating offshore wind platforms. The funding proposals focus on three specific areas:
- Large Wind Blade Additive Manufacturing that builds on existing polymer-based additive manufacturing research that supports and advances more cost effective large wind turbine blades. Polymer based additive manufacturing generally allows for rapid prototyping, tooling, fabrication, and testing in support of novel designs and process configurations.
- Additive Manufacturing of Non-Blade Wind Turbine Components that can be improved through additive manufacturing and associated design and process integration.
- Large Wind Blades: Advancing Manufacturing, Materials, and Sustainability to address the remaining challenges to wind turbine manufacturing and build on previous work within the areas of automation, digitalization, wind blade sustainability, and modular blade construction and joining.
The tension between manufacturers and regulators will never be fully resolved. If you are a regulator, you craft regulations. That’s what you do. Some may remember a 60 Minutes segment from years ago where the head of the Bureau of Mine Safety Appeals publicly asked Congress to eliminate his department, saying it hadn’t handled an appeal in many years. The response was to fire him and replace him with someone who would shut up and not rock the boat.
Does government sometimes go overboard on regulations? Of course it does. But the alternative of no regulations at all would be like playing baseball without an umpire behind the plate. Somebody has to call balls and strikes, otherwise it’s not a game, it’s chaos. The appliance manufacturers can grumble all they want but in the final analysis, we must reduce our energy consumption as much as possible in order to avoid overheating our earthly home.
Left to their own devices, people won’t pay for efficiency improvements that save them $425 over 10 years. But multiply those savings by millions of homes and the benefit to society as a whole is significant. Capitalist theory has no place for social benefits. That’s why we need regulations in the first place. Without them, we will all happily sail into oblivion while chortling about the blessings of freedom. Sometimes, there needs to be adults in the room to save us from ourselves.
UPDATE: We reached out to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) with some clarifying questions and received the following in response.
Q: What is the percentage increase in new efficiency standards compared to existing standards?
Fridges/freezers: The proposed rule would reduce energy use by around 12% on average across product classes, with some product classes being required to reduce energy use even further than that.
Clothes Washers: The proposed rule would reduce energy use by around 35%, and would reduce water use by around 40%, on average, compared to existing standards.
Q: How much will the new standards add to the price of each appliance, on average?
For all product classes: $57
For all product classes: $146
Q: What is the average life expectancy of new appliances?
Refrigerators: 14.8 years (for a standard-size refrigerator and refrigerator/freezer), freezers is longer
Clothes washers: 13.7 years
I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it! We just don't like paywalls, and so we've decided to ditch ours. Unfortunately, the media business is still a tough, cut-throat business with tiny margins. It's a never-ending Olympic challenge to stay above water or even perhaps — gasp — grow. So ...
Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.