California Sets New Efficiency Standards for Appliances

January 5, 2005

The California Energy Commission (CEC) approved new regulations in mid-December that will make appliances sold in the state the most energy-efficient in the nation. The new energy regulations set standards for incandescent lamps; audio and video equipment; residential pool pumps and portable electric spas; evaporative coolers; ceiling fans, exhaust fans and whole house fans; commercial ice makers, refrigerators and freezers; vending machines; commercial hot-food holding cabinets and water dispensers; and other appliances. The regulations go into effect on a staggered schedule beginning in January 2006, and are expected to avoid 100 megawatts of load growth each year they are in effect, as consumers start buying the new appliances.

The new regulations also cover external power supplies, the small transformers that power answering machines, cell and cordless phones, and a host of other small consumer products and appliances. These devices draw electricity whenever they are plugged in to an electrical socket, even if the product they are powering is not in use. In this standby mode, some power supplies use 15 times more energy than equivalent energy-efficient models, costing the average California homeowner as much as $75 in wasted electricity each year. The new standard will require power supplies to use at most 0.5 Watts when the device is off, and will start to go into effect in July 2006. See the CEC press release and the Appliance Efficiency Regulations Rulemaking Web page (which includes the proposed regulations).

While many of today's appliances have built-in energy-saving features, including "sleep" modes on computers and printers, they lack consistency in the controls for such features. The use of different terms and symbols for controlling low-power modes confuses some users, discouraging them from taking advantage of these energy-saving features. Thankfully, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) approved in early December a new standard, IEEE 1621, which covers the terms, symbols, and indicator lights for such power controls. DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) developed the draft standard with CEC funds. See the LBNL Web site, which includes the draft version of the standard.