DOE Opens $346M for Energy Efficiency, Ups Lighting Standards

The Obama administration turned the page on a new chapter for energy efficiency today, opening up $346 million in stimulus funds for “energy-efficient technologies in all major types of commercial buildings as well as new and existing homes,” and raising the bar on efficiency and conservation standards for lighting. Three years in the making, the new standards come after a lengthy weighing of, among other things, potential upfront costs for consumers and manufacturers against national economic and climate benefits, and long-term energy savings.

In terms of lighting standards, President Barack Obama and DOE Chief Steven Chu announced tighter rules today that will take effect in 2012. Incandescent reflector lamps, commonly found in recessed and track lighting (and initially excluded from the Bush administration’s proposed standards update), will have to be 25 percent more efficient, and general service fluorescent lamps will have to be 15 percent more efficient than today’s baseline models. In addition to creating a tougher minimum efficiency for these lamps, the DOE said today that it’s also changing its testing procedures and starting to set efficiency standards for certain fluorescent lamps not covered by current rules.

In all, the new standards — and the DOE’s accompanying analysis of the implications for consumers — reflect an agency focusing more on the long-term impact than the near-term effects on consumer budgets, which have taken center stage in some of the most persistent debates over the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill.

The DOE says it expects the purchase price of “high-efficacy” fluorescent lamps to increase as much as 13-fold (including the purchase of new lamps and a new ballast) compared with today’s baseline models. “When the potential savings due to efficiency gains are summed over the lifetime” of the products, however, the agency expects consumers to save a total of anywhere from $1 billion to $4 billion annually between 2012 and 2042 (about $7.95 per incandescent lamp and $67.06 per fluorescent). Switching over assembly lines, developing new designs and other investments necessary to comply with the new standards, meanwhile, could cost manufacturers anywhere from $4 million to $162 million for fluorescents and $21 million to $98 million for incandescents, although the feds expect “minimal plant closings or loss of employment” as a result of the new rules.

When the DOE changes this kind of standard, it’s required to “achieve the maximum improvement in energy efficiency…which the Secretary determines is technologically feasible and economically justified.” So how are these expenses justified? In part, it has to do with eliminating the need to invest in new power plants. The agency anticipates these more-efficient lamps will end up producing enough energy savings to eliminate the need to add on as much as 2-7.3 GW of new generating capacity, and avoiding nearly 600 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2042.

Breakdown of Efficiency Funds:

The stimulus funds released today for energy efficiency are broken down into five separate programs. The largest is the $100 million Advanced Building Systems Research program, meant to support research projects that focus on “systems design, integration, and control,” and further the goal of achieving net zero-energy buildings.

Next up is the Buildings and Appliance Market Transformation program, which will make $72.5 million available to expand the Energy Star program as part of an effort to “accelerate development of energy efficient products and expand the Energy Star brand into new areas,” such as smart appliances. Funds in this program will also be used to accelerate and expand the DOE’s efforts to “evaluate innovative technologies and develop new test procedures that are more representative of today’s energy use and equipment,” according to a release from the agency today. This program has also been designed to help implement new building codes that require a 30 percent upgrade in energy efficiency by 2010 compared with the 2004 code.

A comparable amount — $70 million — will support consumer education, worker training and efficiency retrofits under the Residential Buildings Development and Deployment program. The Commercial Buildings Initiative, meanwhile, has slightly less to work with, having $53.5 million to dole out for public-private partnerships. According to the DOE’s announcement today, the money “will be used to accelerate and expand partnerships with major companies that design, build, own, manage, or operate large fleets of buildings and that commit to achieving exemplary energy performance.” The agency plans to open a competition in September of this year in an effort to grow its partnerships to 75, up from its current partnerships with 23 companies.

Another $50 million has been opened up for the Solid State Lighting Research and Development program, meant to push “a coordinated development of advanced manufacturing techniques” and “reduce the first cost of high-performance lighting products.”