Understanding the State of Energy and Sustainability Initiatives

By Bridget McCrea
Contributing Writer

Since its inception 25 years ago, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Process Rule has continually evolved as the agency seeks to improve the steps used to develop alliance efficiency standards that impact everything from walk-in coolers to automatic ice makers. A part of the Code of Federal Regulations, the rule has been through several iterations since its original publication in 1996. As those changes were introduced over the last three decades, the rule’s basic tenets remained the same: to describe the procedures, interpretations and policies that guide DOE in establishing new or revised energy-efficiency standards for commercial and consumer products.

How the Process Rule Works

DOE regulations governing covered appliances and equipment are established through a rulemaking process that provides opportunities for public review and comment. Manufacturers, product importers and distributors, energy suppliers, efficiency and environmental advocates, and other members of the public can participate in the process, and DOE maintains a rulemaking schedule and reports on its rulemakings to congress every six months.

The last major update to the Process Rule came in 2020, when the DOE, then part of the Trump administration, published a Federal Register final rule streamlining aspects of its existing rule-making process under the Appliance Standards Program. But with the changing of the U.S. presidential guard in early 2021, more Process Rule changes began to emerge. In 2021, DOE published a Federal Register notice proposing additional revisions and requesting comments on the proposals and potential alternatives. It also issued a separate notice of proposed rulemaking with a focus on areas like coverage determination rulemakings; clarification of Energy Policy and Conservation Act’s rulemaking process for American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) equipment; and clarification of DOE’s analytical methods.

A Work in Progress

Now, the Process Rule is once again being amended before it has time to be fully implemented.

Charlie Souhrada, CFSP, vice president, regulatory and technical affairs at the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM), says the organization has been working “very hard for the last five years to help get the rules to a point where they accurately represent our industry.”

While NAFEM felt that the iteration introduced in December 2020 made sense for businesses and aligned with energy efficiency standards, the new presidential administration “struck down the Process Rule that was instituted one month earlier,” Souhrada says. Now, NAFEM is developing its comments in favor of the rule put in place last year, while also expressing its concerns regarding the approach to test procedures and the interim waiver rule.

“DOE issued a flurry of notices of proposed rule makings and some of them crossed over into each other,” Souhrada explains. For example, there was one rule for refrigeration, another for test procedures and yet another governing energy efficiency standards. For businesses to make sense of the rules, NAFEM felt they needed to be streamlined and better coordinated. This is important because the Process Rule “sets the tone for everything related to energy efficiency,” says Souhrada, who adds that consistency and certainty in regulations are important because engineers typically follow a seven-year-long product development cycle.

“Those engineers need a baseline of data to be able to establish trends and determine whether or not the energy efficiency they’re building into a piece of equipment works, and whether or not it’s economically justified,” Souhrada says. When the Process Rule is in constant flux, establishing those trends and meeting efficiency targets becomes impossible.

Aligning with Engineering Cycles

Currently, DOE is reviewing amended energy conservation standards for commercial refrigerators, freezers and walk-ins. This is part of the regular review process that’s required every six years, with any new changes having the potential to impact foodservice equipment manufacturers and distributors.

“We’d prefer that the changes were on a longer timeline that aligns with the seven-year engineering cycle,” Souhrada says, “Engineers need that data timeline to prove that energy efficiency is actually being accomplished and to what degree.”

Having these insights also helps distributors and the industry as a whole better understand whether a piece of equipment complies with local energy efficiency regulations. “It’s important that the industry be able to communicate those benefits or values back to the operator who’s using the equipment,” he adds.

With the Process Rule currently in flux, Souhrada says NAFEM maintains its position that energy efficiency and environmental standards be justifiable from a technical standpoint and feasible from an economic standpoint. “Businesses need to be able to stay in business,” he concludes, “so that they can employ people who make and sell the equipment.”

Foodservice Industry Impacts

In addition to the Process Rule, several other energy regulations are currently being considered that could impact the foodservice industry. Numerous states are establishing their own energy efficiency standards for certain appliances, for example, with Massachusetts’ new regulation impacting hot food holding cabinets, commercial ovens, dishwashers, fryers and steam cookers going into effect Jan. 1, 2022.

Souhrada advises distributors and manufacturers to track these developments on a state-specific basis, depending on which geographic areas they operate in and/or serve. “It’s important for companies to know what’s going on in their local areas,” he adds, “so that their equipment doesn’t get rejected to some degree.”

Because energy and environmental regulations often go hand-in-hand, Souhrada says companies in the foodservice equipment sector should also stay up to date on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules, including an ongoing effort to reduce the amount of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases used in certain commercial appliance refrigerants. This is also a state-by-state issue, but it’s being driven by the EPA-sponsored American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act of 2020. AIM was put in place to phase down the production and consumption of listed HFCs, manage these HFCs and their substitutes and facilitate the transition to next-generation technologies.

Other Law and Regulations to Consider

In Canada right now, Souhrada says NAFEM is working with Quebec’s Ministry of the Environment and other stakeholders to clarify rules around the recycling and reclamation of certain appliances that have reached end of life. “Anyone with a presence in the province and who is selling these goods could be held responsible for making sure that it is recovered when it’s no longer needed or no longer used,” he explains. Other provinces and several states are considering similar producer responsibility laws and NAFEM is keeping tabs on this activity.

Beyond federal regulations, other stakeholders are working independently toward improving energy efficiency and are reducing carbon emissions as part of their overall strategies. Efforts like the Low-Carbon Resources Initiative (LCRI) are helping to shape the future of energy policy through private initiatives.

Spearheaded by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Gas Technology Institute (GTI), LCRI is a five-year initiative focused on identifying and accelerating the development of promising technologies; demonstrating and assessing the performance of technologies and processes and identifying possible improvements; and informing stakeholders and the public about technology options and potential pathways to a low-carbon future.

Part of the Biden Administration’s stated goals to reduce carbon footprints and the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels (or any type of carbon-emitting fuel), LCRI represents a collaborative effort between two groups that “haven’t always seen eye-to-eye,” Souhrada says. “They’re looking to the future and determining – whether through a blend of gas or electric – which tool is the right one to use in order to accomplish a goal.”