Friday, April 22, 2016

Boring Bureaucrats help save the world: energy edition

When it comes to stopping global climate change, you probably don't think much about vending machines. Fortunately for all us, a lot of non-descript civil servants do.

Don't worry, the government is on it. (Really.)
Nor have you probably ever heard of the Department of Energy's Appliance and Equipment Standards Program (AESP). I'm sure it's staffed by lovely, if slightly nerdy khaki-wearing personnel.

But it's one of the Obama administrations most effective secret weapons in the fight against global warming.

Let's start with the two million beverage vending machines in the United States. Rules issued by AESP in 2015, will lead to machines coming online in 2019 required to be 16 percent more energy efficient in 2019 than today's. Over 30 years, it will save 7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, an average 233,000 tons a year. That's the equivalent of  shutting down Ohio's First Energy's Lakeshore Power Plant, which is a medium-sized coal plant in Ohio.

It will also save businesses at least $210 million in electrical bills over the same time.

Big deal, you say. The US emitted 6.8 billion tons of CO2 equivalent in 2014,  cutting 233,000 tons a year is a nice gesture, but hardly serious climate reduction.

We're just getting started. Read on to see efficiency standards really start to add up.

Residential air conditioners are notoriously inefficient. In January, the AESP worked out consensus standards with input from environmental activists, consumer advocates and manufacturers to increase efficiency standards for residential air conditioners. The resulting rule will save consumers $38 billion and cut carbon emissions by 175 million of CO2 over three decades.  That's about 5.8 million tons a year, or the same as removing Kyger Creek, which is the coal plant with the seventh largest emissions in Ohio.

But there's more.  Rooftop air conditioners cool large commercial buildings and suffer from many of the same inefficiencies as residential units. Manufacturers groups and DOE have been working together on improving specifications and performance since 2011. In 2015, the AESP took the results and codified improved performance into efficiency standards that phase in starting in 2018.  By 2023, new commercial air conditioners will need to be at least 25 percent more efficient than todays. The tougher standards will result in $50 billion in reduced utility bills for building owners and 885 million tons in reduced carbon emissions over 30 years. That works out to an average of 29 million tons in reduced emissions every year -- the same as mothballing the two largest coal power plants in Ohio.

And there's still more: televisions, dishwashers, ceiling fan lighting units, fluorescent lights,  furnaces, industrial boilers, washing machines.... you get the idea. It starts adding up to significant savings.

How much? Overall, the AESP has issued 34 updated equipment standards, covering 40 common appliances since 2009, which will  save 3 gigatons of carbon emissions by 2030. That accumulates to 150 million tons of emissions reduction a year -- about 2 percent of 2014's emissions.

In coal power plant terms, that reduction is the same as permanently shutting down every coal power plant in Ohio.... and most of the ones in Michigan too.

So when we talk about the solving global warming, remember that the struggle
occurs on many fronts.  Putting a price on carbon matters (and no it isn't important whether it's a Cap and Trade system or carbon tax), eliminating coal production is paramount, but the Obama administration's quiet focus on improving efficiency standards for the machines we use every day leverages an extremely effective and underrated tool we need to value a lot more.

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