Meg Waltner, Manager, Building Energy Policy, San Francisco, CA

New energy-efficiency standards for room air conditioners that have been years in the making went into effect June 1 – just in time to help save on summer air conditioning bills. Not only will these standards save Americans money as the mercury soars this summer, but they were also set at levels agreed to jointly by efficiency advocates, manufacturers, and consumer groups. 

Room AC, Wikimedia Commons, Stilfehler

The new standards will require most room air conditioners – air conditioning units placed in windows or through walls – to use 10 percent to 15 percent less energy.  Over 30 years, these savings will add up to approximately 0.3 quads of energy and result in $1.5 billion in net energy bill savings while avoiding 17.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to the annual emissions of about 3.7 million passenger vehicles. DOE set the standards for room air conditioners in 2011, but didn’t require manufacturers to comply until this year.

According to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, there are about 6 million room AC units sold in the United States each year, with a quarter of homes having at least one (around 50% of these homes have two or more). The standard does not include portable air conditioners that sit on the floor and can be moved from room to room (DOE is currently evaluating standards for these portable ACs).

In addition to overall energy savings, new standards for room AC will help keep the lights on during summer heat waves. When more and more people turn on AC as temperatures rise, it puts a strain on the electricity grid that can lead to black outs. More efficient room air conditioners will help cut this peak electricity use and help keep the lights on. When coupled with standards for central AC that go into effect next year, this result will be even greater.

Room air conditioners aren’t the only savings on the horizon. In addition to room air conditioners, the advocate-manufacturer agreement included energy and water efficiency standards for several other products: refrigerators, freezers, clothes washers, dryers, and dishwashers. DOE has since set standards for all these products at the levels agreed to; manufacturers are already meeting these new minimum efficiency requirements for some products and will soon be required to meet them for the others.

In total, the consensus agreement, which also included tax credits for high efficiency appliances, will save more than 9 quads of energy and 5 trillion gallons of water over 30 years. That’s roughly enough electricity to meet the needs of 40 percent of American homes for a year – and enough water to serve every customer in Los Angeles for 25 years.

Together, standards for products covered by the agreement will cut carbon dioxide pollution emissions by over 200 million metric tons by 2030, equivalent to the emissions from about 43 million cars in one year. These standards are part of those already on the books to meet the President’s Climate Action Plan goal of 3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution reductions from standards by 2030.