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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Heating Decision Made Easy (Final Epilogue)

Al Steele at the US Forest Service made me aware of a development related to my previous heating project posts that seems to be important enough to pass along, with my usual unsolicited comments on the story. 

From ClimateWire comes this interesting story:
Lawsuit could force costly delay in new gas furnace standards
The wait for more fuel-efficient gas furnaces just got longer. The Department of Energy has moved to withdraw a new rule that would require consumers in 30 northern states to buy 90-percent-efficient furnaces starting May 1.
 The rule would have saved 81 million to 130 million metric tons of carbon dioxide between 2013 and 2045, according to DOE estimates, as consumers upgraded their furnaces from 80 percent efficiency to 90 percent efficiency systems.
In a joint settlement of a case brought against it by the American Public Gas Association, DOE last week asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to vacate the new rule. The settlement needs to be approved by the court for the rule to be vacated.
The first sentence of the article is extremely interesting. Who was waiting? Not consumers. Anyone who wants a 90% + efficiency gas boiler can buy one today. Actually, the only folks waiting are those interested in forcing the rest of the country's gas boiler owners to upgrade their boilers to the more expensive higher-efficiency systems. So that first sentence gives us a tip on how the rest of the article will be flavored.
[The American Public Gas Association] also said the new rule would hurt efficiency. The rule would require installing condensing furnaces with additional vents, Schryver said, and the higher cost of venting would drive consumers to lower-efficiency electric furnaces.
Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP), said there's no danger of that happening. "I think it's ludicrous. According to EIA, heating with an electric furnace is three times [the price] as compared to gas, and with gas prices declining it's probably four times," he said. "Electric furnaces -- there's no place in the market. They have 5 percent of market share today because they are a really lousy choice in terms of operating costs."
Well, it might be ludicrous to Mr. DeLaski that some folks would choose to heat with expensive electricity instead of upgrading their boilers, but consider...consumers would also have the option of purchasing one or more $100 - $300 electric space heaters, instead of a $10,000 condensing gas boiler. Ludicrous to choose electric...or just the only affordable option left to homeowners of modest means?

DOE had that all figured out...sort of...well, not exactly.
Potential $10.7B in heating savings put on ice
However, DOE concedes that some consumers would find it expensive to upgrade their gas furnaces to the new standard. For these cases, it had proposed a waiver of the 90 percent efficiency rule.
"The rule does mention a potential waiver process, but no waiver process was ever agreed to. We found that the proposed waiver would be unworkable," Schryver said. "If you're living in a cold northern state and the furnace goes out in January, you don't want to have to wait two or three days to get a waiver to have an 80 percent furnace as opposed to a 90 percent furnace."
Schryver said that contractors were not trained to assess waivers, and it was not certain that they have 80 percent furnaces available to install in households that received waivers.
But sticking with the old standard could be the costlier option for regular households. DOE estimates that the 90 percent standard over 30 years would save consumers $10.7 billion taking into account utility bills, equipment costs and gas prices. "Consumer protection organizations like efficiency standards because they save money for consumers," Kennedy said.
This potential heating savings...how did they figure that? I demonstrated in the previous posts that the higher efficiency definitely did not cover, in gas consumption costs, the additional cost of the high-efficiency furnace...especially if you consider the shorter expected life of the condensing boiler. So the only way they come up with billions and billions of savings is if they forecast much, much higher natural gas prices in the future.

Maybe they know something the rest of us don't. After all, the DOE can definitely impact gas price trends, at least in the upward direction.

I love that last line about consumer protection organizations saving money for consumers. Seems to me that the biggest savings to consumers would for the consumer protectors to let consumers protect themselves through their purchasing decisions.

But if you think its all been settled for the better, then take heed of the closing of the article...
If the court accepts the settlement and the gas furnace efficiency standard rule is vacated, DOE will have to go back to the drawing board to come up with a new rule. Kennedy said this sets the stage for even stricter norms. "The law requires that the standard be set at the highest level that is economically feasible," she said. "We will be pushing for the highest possible standard, and that could be higher than the 90 percent level." [Emphasis added.]
So our consumer protectors will be back, with a vengeance.
DeLaski is less optimistic. He said DOE will now take another year to issue a proposed standard and an additional two years to come up with a new final standard. 
"It actually means we'll have to wait another seven years. There's a five-year lag time from when the DOE publishes a standard and when it goes into effect," deLaski said. The new standard will apply only to the installation of new products. "That means that 80 percent units will be installed to run for the next 20 to 40 years," he added.
He's right, at least in my case. I'll be running an 83% efficient boiler in my home for the next twenty years, at least. Unless, of course, the market provides me with a better, more cost-efficient heating alternative before then.

And that's as it should be.

 


1 comment:

RMP said...

Chuck,
You should take care to not mix furnace and boiler. Furnaces heat air and boiler heat water. The efficiency standard this article references is for furnaces.

One key difference to consider is that high efficiency furnaces will operate as rated when installed in place of an old furnace. High efficiency condensing boilers will not, they need low temperature water returning from the piping system to operate at the rated efficiency. Most older systems are designed to work with a standard efficiency boiler and maintain water temperatures returning to the boiler high enough to keep condensing from occurring. If you put a high efficiency condensing boiler in this type of system with no modifications, it will operate in a standard efficiency range (80-85%).

I didn't see it mentioned in your heating decision posts, but it seems that you came to a decision that supports this issue. Additionally, you didn't spend extra money on a rating that you could never achieve. Kind of like buying a hybrid version of a car and then only driving it at high speed on the highway. Now the question is attaboy or dumb luck?
Mike P.