Washington - The U.S. Department of Energy has announced moderately higher efficiency standards for gas and oil furnaces and boilers under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. The new standards, which will take effect in 2015, call for Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency levels of 82% for gas boilers, 83% for oil boilers, 80% for gas furnaces and 82% for oil furnaces.
The Gas Appliance Manufacturer's Association said the standards are reasonable, while environmental groups called them inadequate.
DOE said it estimates that the amended standards will save the equivalent of the total amount of energy consumed by 2.5 million American households in one year, or approximately 0.25 quadrillion British thermal units (Btus) of energy, over a period of 24 years from 2015-2038.
Higher standards than those announced would have created the potential for condensing within the venting systems of furnaces and boilers, requiring use of stainless steel venting, said Joseph M. Mattingly, vice president, secretary and general counsel of the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association.
Environmental groups, on the other hand, thought DOE should have required condensing technology.
“This standard is grossly inadequate - a 90% natural gas furnace efficiency standard would provide more than 17 times the carbon savings,” said David B. Goldstein, energy program co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Today's decision makes it all too clear that the Energy Department attaches zero value to cutting global warming emissions.”
DOE, in its published rule, said it could not justify a 90% AFUE for the South.
“A majority of the affected consumers in the south would be expected to experience a significant increase in total installed cost,” the rulemaking said. “Since the operating cost savings of condensing technology are less of a factor in warmer climates, the substantial increase in total installed cost leads to increased life-cycle costs. DOE found that 55% of households in the south purchasing a non-weatherized gas furnace would experience a life-cycle net cost. The average LCC increase to the southern consumer purchasing a non-weatherized gas furnace is $82. The mean payback period of non-weatherized gas furnaces in the south would be substantially longer than the mean lifetime of these furnaces.”
DOE also said that it was not legally able to issue regional efficiency standards. In response, both the House and Senate passed, as part of comprehensive energy legislation, bills that would make explicit DOE's authority to create regional standards for heating and cooling products. Recently, the Air-conditioning & Refrigeration Institute and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy recommended a compromise to Congress that would allow DOE to set up to two regional standards for furnaces and three for central air conditioners. In the current rulemaking, DOE points out that different efficiencies for different states would be difficult to enforce.
“About 35% of the market is 90% AFUE or above,” Mattingly said. “What DOE said was that it couldn't justify 90% for the nation as a whole. If people want to buy a 90% furnace, who's stopping them?”
In announcing the new rules, DOE said it wanted to consider a 90% AFUE but didn't have enough time.
“This Final Rule for residential furnaces and boilers was issued under a consent decree schedule entered in State of New York v. Bodman,” DOE said. “DOE sought to modify the schedule in order to more fully review comments received on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Comments indicated the feasibility and desirability of addressing natural gas price impacts as a result of the standards at issue in this rulemaking.”
DOE said that it would have taken another nine months to review the impact on natural gas prices of a 90% AFUE, including a public comment period. DOE's motion to modify the consent decree was denied and the agency had to issue final rules in November.
The odds are that efficiency levels will go higher in the foreseeable future. Several northern states are considering their own efficiency rules. In addition, the pending legislation in Congress that would allow regional efficiency levels would probably result in much more efficient heating equipment in northern states.