Energy and electrical engineering in all its forms are complex technical topics, and for the general public it can be hard to tell which products are energy efficient. The US Department of Energy (DOE) has been creating and enforcing standards since 1979 to ensure that appliances and equipment provide value for customers. This has been one of the most effective energy efficiency policies ever implemented by the US, yielding billions of dollars in energy savings each year.
As of 2017, the US Department of Energy publishes standards for more than 60 product categories, which account for more than 90% of residential energy consumption, 60% of commercial energy consumption, and 30% of industrial energy consumption. In addition, the DOE updates its procedures every seven years to keep up with the pace of technological development. These testing procedures are also used by the ENERGY STAR program, which showcases the most efficient products in the market, and is a joint effort by the US Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The main differences between both programs are the following:
- The Appliance and Equipment Standards Program is mandatory and enforced by federal laws. If a product is part of a regulated category and is found to be non-compliant, it cannot be sold legally in the US.
- The ENERGY STAR program is more demanding in its performance requirements, but voluntary. However, labeling is required by some rebate programs for energy-efficient equipment. The program has a category called ENERGY STAR Most Efficient, which lists the top-performing equipment year by year.
Achievements of the DOE Standards Program
Thanks to the DOE Appliances and Equipment Standards Program, energy consumers are expected to achieve cumulative savings of $1 trillion by 2020, and $2 trillion by 2030. In 2015 alone, US homes and businesses saved approximately $63 billion in energy expenses thanks to the program.
In the absence of DOE standards, the average US household would spend $321 more on energy each year. In addition, since testing procedures and standards are under constant improvement, annual household savings are expected to increase to $529 by 2030. The following are some of the home appliances that have achieved the largest efficiency improvements since the US DOE started regulating them:
- Compared with 1973 models, modern refrigerators only consume 25% of the energy while offering 20% more storage space and having a retail price that is 50% lower.
- Since 1990, energy use has been reduced by 70% for clothes washers, 40% for dishwashers, 50% for air conditioners and 10% for furnaces.
To keep up with the pace of technological development, the US DOE reviews its approved testing procedures every seven years, and standards are reviewed every six years. This helps manufacturers schedule their product launches more effectively, since the publication of reviewed standards and testing procedures follows a predictable timeframe.
How the DOE Chooses Which Products to Regulate
When deciding which appliances and equipment to cover in its standards, the DOE considers the average energy consumption of the product in question and its total energy use throughout the US. They also analyze the technological and economic implications of energy efficiency improvements, and only proceed with those that are considered feasible.
There are many occasions where a specific product category is found to have significant potential for energy efficiency improvement, but a labeling program may be enough to achieve the required performance level. In these cases, the DOE may decide that a full standard is not necessary and that a labeling program is enough.
How Manufacturers and Electrical Engineering Experts Can Manage their Certification Process
Although DOE standardization may seem like a burden for manufacturers and others involved in electrical engineering, it is actually beneficial because they can deal with a single regulating entity, rather than having to meet fragmented standards from many institutions. In fact, no agency is allowed to regulate products already covered by DOE standards, unless a waiver is granted by the DOE itself.
The US DOE developed an online tool called the Compliance Certification Management System (CCMS). Through this platform, manufacturers and authorized third-parties can create, submit and track reports completely through the Internet. The system has a Microsoft Excel template for each product category to speed up the certification process, and submissions are automatically directed to the corresponding area of the DOE’s Building Technologies Office for review.
Once a submission has been approved, it is published through another online tool called the Compliance Certification Database, where certification reports and compliance statements can be browsed and filtered by product category. The US DOE updates the database every two weeks, adding any new products that were reviewed and certified after the last update. This database ensures that all key certification information is readily available for manufacturers, as well as their business partners and clients.
The eeCompass Platform For Customers
Even with certified products, a customer may not get the best performance if the equipment selected is not a suitable match for the intended application. Therefore, the DOE has created the eeCompass website to help customers make informed decisions regarding their energy-consuming appliances.
The eeCompass platform covers more than 2 million products and allows users to search and compare them by model number, manufacturer or key performance metrics.
The US Department of Energy holds meetings where the general public is invited to comment on proposed changes to testing procedures and standards. Meeting dates are published in the Building Technologies Office website, and participation can be in-person or online.
By making sure their electrical engineering professionals and other contractors only use compliant equipment, property management companies can guarantee energy efficiency in their building systems, while also making indoor spaces safer for occupants.