What does the future hold for the Energy Star program? That is the question.
The voluntary program, which was created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1992 to identify and promote energy-efficient products to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, had a tumultuous 2017.
President Donald Trump started the year declaring he intended to defund the program. And, while the defunding attempts proved unsuccessful, legislators did approve a 53 percent cut to the program’s budget, reducing its funding from $66 million in 2017 to $31 million in 2018.
Additionally, on Nov. 7, 2017, Bob Latta, R-Ohio, presented his “Energy Star Reform Act” before the Energy and Commerce subcommittee, which proposed to transfer stewardship of the Energy Star program from the EPA to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
“The Energy Star program has been a win-win for consumers and manufacturers over the past 25 years,” Latta said. “This program has proven to be a successful tool in advancing the development and use of energy-efficient technologies. It has also promoted economic expansion and job growth for participating manufacturers across the nation, including many in my home state of Ohio.”
This change would allow manufacturers that are in good standing with the program to self-certify, Latta said.
“The Energy Star program is widely recognized by consumers and has seen major investments by the manufacturing community over the past two decades,” he continued. “The updates we are considering today are important for ensuring that this program remains strong.”
EPA OR DOE?
Five witnesses were present at the November 2017 Energy and Commerce subcommittee meeting, including Air-Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute (AHRI); the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE); Consumer Technology Association (CTA); Cree, a Durham, North Carolina-based light manufacturer; and the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM).
Of the five, only AHAM spoke in favor of moving the Energy Star program from the EPA to the DOE.
“For our major appliances, since Energy Star was transferred to EPA, the program has strayed from its energy efficiency mission,” said Joseph McGuire, president and CEO, AHAM. “It has become increasingly obvious that in an attempt to maintain relevance, since many product categories no longer had room for significant efficiency improvements, the EPA has migrated from an energy-related program into other areas beyond the program’s ambit and EPA’s expertise and authority.
“This drift must be considered in concert with the reality that the success of the program has essentially made it mandatory in the marketplace,” McGuire continued. “It now is necessary for Congress to bring this program under DOE’s authority at least for products, such as home appliances, which are regulated by DOE under the Appliance Standards Program.”
Chris Drew, executive vice president for Burnham Holdings Inc. and AHRI’s immediate past chairman, said AHRI is concerned a sudden reassignment of the Energy Star program to a new agency could prove to be an unwarranted disturbance to a currently successful program.
“Though no doubt well-intentioned, the draft [legislation] does not provide details as to how this could be accomplished without interruption or disruption,” Drew said. “It [Energy Star] is currently operated by a knowledgeable and dedicated staff in a way that generally ensures stakeholder input and successful outcomes. There are several questions we could not answer with the draft in its current form, such as how the responsibilities of the program could successfully be transferred from one agency to the other. What office within the Department of Energy would take ownership? Would current institutional knowledge held by those who have run this program be lost? Would the current approved products and procedures be maintained? The HVACR industry would prefer to maintain the program as it currently stands under the Office of Atmospheric Programs at the EPA, where it has been able to operate successfully for our products since 1992.”
When it comes to Energy Star certification, HVACR systems are unique, as they are not plug-and-play appliances like refrigerators, dishwashers, ceiling fans, etc. And while Energy Star-certification is helpful for HVACR contractors and consumers, the singular focus on lab-tested efficiency is not adequate for non-plug-and-play equipment.
“The Energy Star label has very little meaning on HVAC equipment,” said Barton James, senior vice president of government relations, ACCA. “HVAC systems are very complex. They require skilled technicians to properly size them, ensure the ducts are designed to deliver precise airflow, and provide adequate refrigerant charges. If these basic elements are not followed, then IAQ is jeopardized, the intended performance gains are not realized, and a significant amount of energy is wasted — even by highly efficient Energy Star-certified products.”
ACCA believes the Energy Star program should remain with the EPA because, unlike the DOE, it recognizes the importance of quality installations.
“The EPA recognizes that half of U.S. homes suffer from HVAC systems not being installed to the equipment manufacturers’ minimum installation requirements,” James said. “This lack of consumer focus on HVAC installation has resulted in the average home and light commercial HVAC system being two times the size it needs to be and ducts half the required size, which has resulted in the average 14-SEER system operating at just 8-10 SEER.
“Despite our best efforts, the DOE continues to not recognize this problem and help consumers understand the importance of proper installation when it comes to equipment, which is the largest consumer of energy in our country,” James continued. “HVAC manufacturers are producing highly efficient products that are meeting and exceeding DOE’s regulatory demands; however, DOE does not promote the minimum installation and design standards that manufacturers recommend. Despite DOE knowing that not properly installing a new air conditioning unit or heat pump will consume 30 percent more energy than it should and significantly decrease the equipment’s lifespan, they have done nothing to address the problem for consumers.”
ENERGY STAR VERIFIED INSTALLATION
In 2012, the EPA established the Energy Star Verified Installation (ESVI) program. The program was designed to help bridge the gap between the designed performance and installed performance of HVAC systems.
Chandler von Schrader spent the last 15 years of his professional life working for the EPA, most recently serving as ESVI program manager. On Nov. 9, 2017, two days after the Energy and Commerce subcommittee meeting, Schrader resigned his position.
Moving the Energy Star brand from the EPA to the DOE would be a huge mistake, he said.
“Energy Star is a great public venue to increase the awareness of comfort and efficiency,” von Schrader said. “That said, the DOE is ill equipped to raise the awareness and need of quality installations. They don’t have a real connection with the contractors out in the field. We’ve got to get away from promoting a system’s lab efficiency, because, more often than not, that level of efficiency is never achieved.”
For von Schrader, the best-case scenario is for the EPA to retain ownership of the program and then work with the DOE to enhance consumer awareness of the program and the importance of quality HVACR installations.
“Stronger collaboration with the DOE would provide the program the clout and funding necessary to bolster Energy Star,” von Schrader continued. “You don’t order a pizza and expect there to be two slices missing. That’s what’s happening with HVACR contracting. We have to improve the state of HVACR installation.”
A CONTRACTOR’S PERSPECTIVE
Rob Minnick, CEO and president, Minnick’s Inc., Laurel, Maryland, said the entire HVACR industry could benefit from the ESVI program.
“The EPA really stepped up by putting out the ESVI program,” he said. “However, the program is not being promoted as strongly as the Energy Star logo. Existing homes are energy hogs, and many of those issues could be fixed by competent contractors, which would save a lot of energy. The problem is that not much is being done to inform customers. We have to help customers learn about incentives; teach them how to gain financing; and share how they can obtain healthy, comfortable, safer, and more efficient environments.”
If and when the program gains mass appeal, contractors will be forced to respond, Minnick said.
“ESVI could have a huge impact, though customers need to be aware of it and demand it from contractors,” he said. “Contractors will not move on this unless they start losing jobs because they are not aware or involved in it.”
Given the choice, Minnick said he’d prefer the Energy Star program remain under the EPA’s guidance rather than swap it to the DOE.
“The DOE is only concerned about equipment efficiency,” Minnick said. “Equipment will not be efficient if it is hooked up to a leaky, non-efficient home with a very poor non-engineered duct system. HVAC systems require a great deal of engineering, including engineered duct systems — not just equipment — that work within an engineered house. You cannot take a NASCAR engine and put it into a 1970 Pinto with flat tires and expect it to run in a NASCAR race.”
Publication date: 1/22/2018