January 20, 2016 — The Appliance Standards and Rulemaking Federal Advisory Committee (ASRAC) approved an agreement for recommendations on a new standard for residential central air conditioning and heat pump efficiency levels that was developed by a DOE-formed working group. The working group's membership includes Rheem, Lennox, United Technologies, Johnstone Supply, Goodman, Ingersoll-Rand, and AHRI.

The efficiency level for residential central air conditioners under 45,000 Btu/hr would be 14 SEER in the North and 15 SEER in the Southeast and Southwest; for products over 45,000 Btu/hr, the levels would be 14.5 SEER in the Southeast and Southwest, and 14 SEER in the North. Heat pump efficiency levels would be set at 15 SEER for all regions.

The Southeast region includes the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories. The Southwest region includes Arizona, California, Nevada, and New Mexico

“We are pleased to see that industry and environmental leaders have been able to come together yet again and reach an agreement that will benefit consumers, businesses, and employees for years to come,” said AHRI president and CEO Stephen Yurek. “We have always believed that the negotiated rulemaking process is the best way to establish workable, effective regulations, and this agreement once again proves that to be true.”

The agreement is the latest in a string of successfully negotiated energy efficiency standards completed by a diverse group of stakeholders including manufacturers, utility companies, efficiency advocates, state government representatives, contractors, distributors, and DOE itself. Other recent examples include commercial rooftop air conditioners and furnaces, and walk-in coolers.  

Once approved by DOE, the energy efficiency levels agreed to in the negotiations will go into effect January 1, 2023, but will be adjusted based on changes to product test procedures.

The agreement is the latest in a string of successfully negotiated energy efficiency standards completed by a diverse group of stakeholders including manufacturers, utility companies, efficiency advocates, state government representatives, contractors, distributors, and DOE itself. Other recent examples include commercial rooftop air conditioners and furnaces, and walk-in coolers.  

The proposal for improved AC and heat pump efficiency builds on previous consensus standards issued in 2011 and taking effect last year, and, before that, the very large improvements that took effect in 2006. Combined, these three rounds of improvements (effective in 2006, 2015 and, now, 2023) will raise central air conditioning and heat pump efficiency by about 50 percent over less than 20 years. 

The recommended standards will:

  • Maintain the regional standards approach for central air conditioners, which first took effect last year. Higher standards are more cost effective in the South than in the North, and the regional standards reflect this difference.
  • Continue EER (energy efficiency ratio) in the Southwest region. This is a second efficiency metric that is important for peak demand savings in that region.
  • Continue with a single national standard for heat pumps.
  • Adopt important updates to the test method to make the test more representative of actual field conditions. These changes take effect with the new standards.
  • The term sheets approved today include standards adjustments to reflect test method changes.
  • The standards change is timed to correspond to the expected phase-out of refrigerants currently used in these products, a significant benefit and cost savings for manufacturers.

According to sources, the changes will result in an electricity cost savings of $38 billion.

Mark Menzer, director of public affairs for Danfoss, told ContractingBusiness.com the agreement gives manufacturers some breathing room as juggle multiple legislative mandates.

"The successful negotiation of new rules for the minimum efficiencies for air conditioners and heat pumps, which are expected to take effect in 2023, will give equipment manufacturers an opportunity to redesign their systems at a time when they will also be working to incorporate low-GWP refrigerants," Menzer said. Additionally, the maintenance of the minimum EER requirement for the Southwest will help electric utilities handle peak energy usage more effectively.

"The new standard represents national energy savings (higher SEERs), and also continues the minimum EER requirement for the Southwest region, where electric utilities are concerned with demand peaks on the hottest days.  However, one notable change is the reduced EER requirement for equipment with a SEER rating of 16 or higher," Menzer said. "This is a significant development to the rule because the parties recognized that high-efficiency variable speed equipment that has the ability to receive signals from the electric utility will be able to be dialed down during a peak period while continuing to provide comfort cooling. This will enable utilities to have the demand control they need while assuring customers that their equipment will continue to operate at maximum efficiency and provide the level of comfort they desire."

Members of the Central Air Conditioners and Central Air Conditioning Heat Pumps Working Group
Southern Company; California Energy Commission; United Technologies; California Investor-Owned Utilities (Pacific Gas & Electric Company, San Diego Gas & Electric Company, Southern California Edison, and Southern California Gas Company); Lennox; Air Conditioning Contractors of America; Rheem Manufacturing Company; Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute; Johnstone Supply; American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy; Goodman Manufacturing; Ingersoll Rand; Natural Resources Defense Council; Appliance Standards Awareness Project; and the U.S. Department of Energy. (Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) stff contributed to the development of the test procedures.)