Keep cool while you save the planet

US Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson has proposed new energy efficiency standards for residential central air conditioners and heat pumps that will save energy, reduce utility bills and improve air quality. Over a 25-year period, the proposed standards are expected to save enough electricity to light all US homes for nearly three years. The average consumer will save money as a result of lower electricity bills over the life of the product.

‘The proposed energy efficiency standards for air conditioners and heat pumps will benefit consumers and the environment,’ said Secretary Richardson. ‘By reducing electricity use, we are helping consumers save money, enhancing the reliability of the electric power grid and ensuring a healthier environment by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.’

Air conditioners are rated according to their seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). Heat pumps are central air conditioners that are capable of delivering both cooled and heated air, depending on the season. Heat pumps have two ratings: SEER for cooling and for heating, the heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF). The proposed standards will require air conditioners to have a minimum SEER of 12 and heat pumps to have a minimum SEER of 13 and a minimum HSPF of 7.7. Current standards require central air conditioners to meet a minimum SEER of 10, and heat pumps to meet an HSPF of 6.8.

Last month, the department’s Energy Information Administration reported that 47 percent of US households used central air conditioning in 1997, up from only 23 percent in 1978. The proposed standards — which will increase air conditioning efficiency by 20 percent and heat pump efficiency by 30 percent — are expected to save 1.5 quadrillion BTU (British Thermal Units) of energy by 2020. This is enough energy to avoid the need for 31 large, 400 megawatt power plants and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2.5 million metric tons.

Following publication of the proposed standards, there will be a 60-day public comment period to allow for input from manufacturers, trade associations, utilities, state energy offices, consumers, consumer/environmental groups and other interested parties. After this 60-day comment period, the department will issue a final rule on the standards. The proposal reflects the department’s revised rule-making procedures which allow for greater input from manufacturers, the public and other parties. The proposed standards will take effect for all residential central air conditioners and heat pumps manufactured after January 1, 2006.

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