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U.S. DOE Sets Largest-Ever Appliance Efficiency Standard in Wake of Paris Agreement

The U.S. Department of Energy wants rooftop air conditioning units to run more efficiently, saving millions of tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere in the process.

With climate change in the spotlight following a historic global warming pact adopted in Paris, the U.S. Department of Energy on Thursday finalized an efficiency standard that it says will prevent more greenhouse gas emissions than any other such rule it’s put out.

The standards will phase in requirements for more efficient rooftop air conditioning units and heaters used commonly in low-rise buildings. According to a Thursday statement from the DOE, the rooftop AC units covered under the standard cool about half the commercial floor space in the U.S.

The new rules for rooftop AC should, according to Marianne DiMascio of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, prevent close to 1.1 billion metric tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere in the next 30 years.

According to the press release, the DOE crafted the standard while working with organizations representing the affected appliances and businesses that use them.

“This rule also shows that strong public-private partnerships can reap environmental and economic dividends and drive technology breakthroughs,” Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said in the statement.

The standards will be phased in in two parts — first with a 13 percent increase in efficiency in 2018, and then with another 15 percent increase in 2023.

The DOE has put together efficiency standards for more than 40 appliances, both household and commercial, since President Obama took office, according to the press release. The department’s goal was to put enough standards in place during Obama’s years in office to reduce carbon emissions by 3 billion metric tons. The latest announcement puts the department about two-thirds of the way there.

Several environmental advocacy and heating and air groups applauded the new standards in a Friday press release. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy estimated that appliances that meet the new standards will save building owners between $4,200 and $10,100 during the life of their product — about 22 years.

For the owners of larger commercial spaces such as big-box retailers, the savings could be even more substantial.

“These new standards will bring down the cost of doing business and improve bottom lines by letting companies invest money they used to spend on heating and cooling,” ACEEE Executive Director Steve Nadel said in the statement. “This will in turn stimulate the economy, create jobs and bring us closer to the finish line of the president's climate goals for appliance standards.”

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.