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"The greenest energy is the energy we don't use," the World Economic Forum wrote in a report from the sidelines of COP27 back in 2022. The report highlighted the importance of energy efficiency as a central platform of the decarbonization movement. The problem is that energy efficiency isn't sexy. 

You can't garner excitement about it the way that you could over a new cutting-edge energy technology, and it's a particularly hard sell for investors. It's hard to make money off of anti-consumerism. So it's really up to governments to impose policies and standards that incentivize and enforce increased energy efficiency measures, because the free market is never going to achieve it on its own. 

But those measures aren't all that popular, either. In the United States, we're seeing tensions rise over tightening standards for the energy efficiency of home appliances like refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, clothes dryers and, yes - gas stoves. Since the Reagan administration instated the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act back in 1987, the U.S. Energy Department has been tasked with setting minimum standards and revisiting them periodically, releasing new proposed standards six years after the previous round of standards has been implemented. 

But while the policy is not new, it's just recently garnered a fair bit of press and pushback. While policy experts contend that it's absolutely essential for the government to keep incentivizing innovation through the imposition of increasingly stringent standards, industry insiders are saying that they're at the limit of reasonable energy efficiency improvements. 

"The reality of the laws of physics that require some amount of energy and water for home appliances to keep food cold and to clean and dry clothes and dishes has to be recognized," Kevin Messner, chief policy officer of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, was quoted in a recent article from the Wall Street Journal. Echoing this sentiment, an industry group opposing new standards from the U.S. Energy Department has said that they want new standards to be based off of technological breakthroughs rather than government deadlines. 

In contrast, policy advocates such as Andrew deLaski of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project say that the pressure introduced by standard increases at regular intervals is what spurs such technological breakthroughs. Without the standards, appliance manufacturers have almost zero incentive to invest in the necessary research and development. 

While such standards may be a necessary evil, many producers and consumers see them as just that - a royal pain in the rear. Consumers, too, are loath to support the standards that are making their dishwasher cycles longer and their loads of laundry slightly south of bone-dry. Especially when the payoff in energy savings doesn't quite ease the sting of the sticker price of those appliances. 

The latest round of tighter appliance efficiency standards is currently underway, and will be implemented over the next three to six years. The Department of Energy calculates that consumers can expect a modest return on their investment in terms of energy savings - very modest. "Those who buy a standard-size refrigerator could be $51 to $143 ahead at the end of its expected 14.5-year lifespan once the higher price is offset by lower energy bills," reports the Wall Street Journal. Not exactly a big selling point if consumers are less satisfied with the product overall. 

But the energy and environment impact of the standards will be considerable.  The Appliance Standards Awareness Project estimates that the standards will keep 270 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted-equivalent to the yearly energy use of 34 million homes in the U.S. 

And home appliances are just one small (but nonetheless essential) part of the bigger energy efficiency picture. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), accelerated and intensified progress toward energy efficiency and energy avoidance could slash 95 exajoules of final energy demand in 2030. That is an unfathomably large amount, more or less equal to the final energy consumption of China - the largest energy consumer in the world. 

By Haley Zaremba for

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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the… More