Juice: CEC Efficiency Bravado

By Published On: December 14, 2012

The state’s two main energy agencies are like siblings with contrasting appearances and appeals. The flashy California Public Utilities Commission is often center stage, with its rulings on multi-billion dollar rate cases, safety plans for deteriorating private utility gas pipelines and controversial smart meters. However, the understudy California Energy Commission grabbed the limelight this past year for unprecedented work in energy efficiency. During the course of the year, the Energy Commission’s groundbreaking decisions and millions of dollars in grants advancing energy efficiency have garnered national attention. Spotlighted were three key actions, with the most significant in May. The Energy Commission overhauled the state’s building efficiency standards. It created a system that could result in significant annual reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and produce massive savings in energy usage. The building standards take effect Jan. 1, 2014. They revamp regulations for constructing new commercial and residential buildings. Provisions include requiring water pipes in newly-built homes to be insulated to save water and energy, as well as reduce time for heating water. In mid-March, the Energy Commission agreed to amend its appliance regulations in order to set new efficiency standards, test procedures, marketing and labeling requirements, and other regulations for a variety of appliances that consume significant amounts of energy or water. The Energy Commission’s ultimate goal is to reduce excessive energy and water consumption by regulated appliances. The rulemaking is set up to be implemented in three phases over two years. The third major energy efficiency decision made by the commission came at the beginning of the year. In January, the agency approved what it called a “first-in-the-nation” energy efficiency standard. The move’s expected to reduce wasted energy from battery chargers commonly used to power cell phones, laptop computers, power tools, and other devices. Back to building standards: the updates are so significant that commissioner Karen Douglas called the standards “the biggest incremental improvement in efficiency that we’ve ever made in California.” The new building standards mandate the use of energy efficient windows that allow more sunlight in, while reducing heat. It requires non-residential buildings to be equipped with sensors and controls to allow for the use of natural light, as well as the use of cool roofs on commercial buildings. Complying with the measures is expected to increase the cost of constructing a new home by $2,290, but the commission also estimates they would return more than $6,200 in energy savings over 30 years. According to the data, about $11/month would be added to the average house payment, based on a 30-year mortgage. The tradeoff is that consumers can expect more than double the savings, at about $27/month, on heating, cooling, and lighting bills. Although the building standards revamp gained the most attention during the year, the two other energy regulations adopted also made major efficiency inroads. Phase one of the appliance efficiency rules, which is now underway and expected to last through the second quarter of 2013, determines new standards for game consoles, computers, LED lamps, commercial clothes dryers, water meters, toilets, and a handful of other devices. The second phase, which picks up in the second quarter of 2013 and proceeds until the second quarter of 2014, sets standards for computer servers and imaging equipment, as well as irrigation equipment and outdoor lighting. Phase three is scheduled to commence in the second quarter of 2014. It will include new standards for commercial dishwashers, linear fluorescent fixtures, and low power modes for consumer electronics, among other devices. The CEC says its battery charger standards can reduce the wasted electricity from powering day-to-day appliances by 40 percent. That energy reduction is estimated to eliminate a million metric tons of carbon emissions and save nearly 2,200 GWh each year, enough energy to power about 350,000 homes. The Energy Commission estimates there are 170 million chargers in California households, an average of 11 battery chargers per household. Consumer chargers used in cell phones, personal care devices, and power tools are required to comply with the new standards by Feb. 1, 2013. Compliance for industrial chargers, such as those used by forklifts, is required by Jan. 1, 2014. Compliance for small commercial chargers like walkie talkies and portable barcode scanners is required by Jan. 1, 2017. Also, on an ongoing basis throughout the year, the commission handed out tens of millions of dollars in energy efficiency grants and loans to public institutions like cities, counties, schools and hospitals. The funds, which come from a special financing program, help pay for new energy efficient lighting, building insulation, HVAC equipment, and other measures. According to the Energy Commission, California’s electricity consumption per capita has remained flat over the past 35 years compared to the rest of the U.S.--other states increased energy consumption by over 40 percent. California primarily attributes lack of growth in consumption to energy efficient building and appliance standards. Energy efficiency has become a key strategy in the state’s goal of cutting back on the construction of new fossil fueled power plants and in 2012, the Energy Commission played a significant role in moving that goal forward. The Energy Commission has had an unintentional efficiency of its own: throughout the year, the body never functioned with its full allotment of five commissioners, as a vacancy remained unfilled by the governor. The CEC performed with four--and sometimes a bare quorum of three--commissioners throughout 2012.

Share this story

Not a member yet?

Subscribe Now