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Date:  May 27, 2009

Contacts:  Rebecca Alvania, Media Relations Officer

Alison Burnette, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail <>




Measures of Appliance Energy Efficiency That Reflect the Full Fuel Cycle Would Provide Consumers With Clearer Picture of Energy Use, Environmental Impacts


WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Energy should consider gradually changing its system of setting appliance energy-efficiency standards to a full-fuel-cycle measurement, which takes into account both the energy used to operate an appliance, as well as upstream energy costs -- energy consumed in producing and distributing fuels from coal, oil, and natural gas, and energy lost in generating and delivering electric power.  This change would offer consumers more complete information on household energy consumption and its environmental impacts, says a new congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council.


Currently, DOE sets appliance efficiency standards using primarily "site" (or point-of-use) measurements, which reflect only the energy consumed to operate the appliance.  Site measurements allow consumers to compare energy efficiency among appliances, but offer no information about other energy costs involved.  For example, site measurements may indicate that, in the home, an electric water heater operates with 90 percent efficiency while a natural gas water heater operates with 65 percent efficiency.  Full-fuel-cycle measurements would also take into account the upstream energy costs that are involved in providing either electricity or natural gas.  Energy losses in the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity can be as high as 70 percent to 75 percent, whereas losses incurred in the distribution of natural gas are only about 10 percent.  Therefore, using full-fuel-cycle measurements, the natural gas water heater may be considered the more energy-efficient appliance.


According to the report, site measurements are appropriate when setting standards for appliances in the same class -- based on fuel type, technology, and capacity -- that use only one type of fuel.  When considering appliances that use multiple fuel types (e.g., a heating system with a gas furnace and an electric fan) or comparing appliances that perform the same function (e.g., space cooling or water heating) but use different types of fuel, the full-fuel-cycle measurement would provide a more complete picture of energy consumption.


Debate over this issue has been long-standing and was seen in the committee that wrote the report.  The majority of the committee endorsed a gradual switch to full-fuel-cycle measurements as a way to provide more information to consumers and explicitly show the impact of energy use on the environment.  However, two committee members dissented and instead felt that DOE should continue to use primarily site measures when setting energy-efficiency standards.  According to these dissenting opinions, transitioning to a full-fuel-cycle measurement would not necessarily help consumers reduce their energy consumption -- the goal of the appliance efficiency program -- and would inevitably favor one fuel, which is a matter of national energy policy, not the appliance efficiency program.    


This study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter.  The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  A committee roster follows.


Copies of Review of Site (Point-of-Use) and Full-Fuel-Cycle Measurement Approaches to DOE/EERE Building Appliance Energy-Efficiency Standards are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above). 

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[ This news release and report are available at ]



Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences

Board on Energy and Environmental Systems


Committee on Point of Use and Full Fuel Cycle Measurement Approaches to Energy Efficiency Standards

James W. Dally* (chair)

Professor Emeritus

University of Maryland

College Park     


David H. Archer*

Consulting Engineer

Westinghouse Electric Corp. (retired)

Washington, D.C.


Ellen Berman


Consumer Energy Council of America (retired)

Washington, D.C.


Ramon L. Espino

Research Professor

Department of Chemical Engineering

University of Virginia



David Hungerford      

Demand Response Manager

Demand Analysis Office

California Energy Commission      



Steven Nadel

Executive Director

American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

Washington, D.C.


Richard K. Newell

Gendell Associate Professor of Energy and Environmental Economics

Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences

Duke University

Durham, N.C.


Reinhard Radermacher


Center for Environmental Energy Engineering, and


Department of Mechanical Engineering

University of Maryland

College Park


Phyllis Reha


Minnesota Public Utilities Commission

St. Paul


Eric Williams

Assistant Professor

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Global Institute of Sustainability

Arizona State University



James L. Wolf

Independent Consultant

Alexandria, Va.




Duncan Brown

Study Director



* Member, National Academy of Engineering