The EPA is introducing new ENERGY STAR requirements for home dishwashers and furnaces, and evaluating how to best address and encourage smart grid functionality in ENERGY STAR specifications like refrigerators and air conditioning units.

Effective January 20, 2012, residential dishwashers meeting the new ENERGY STAR requirements will be between 10 and 30 percent more energy efficient than conventional models, and about 8 percent more efficient than dishwashers that met the previous ENERGY STAR requirement. Beginning February 1, 2012, furnaces that meet the new requirements for the southern half of the U.S. will be labeled with a U.S. South ENERGY STAR mark. The qualified furnaces in the South - where homes require less heat - will be up to 12 percent more energy efficient than baseline units. Qualified furnaces in the northern half of the U.S. including Canada will bear the standard ENERGY STAR logo and will be up to 16 percent more energy efficient than baseline models.

EPA is also reviewing ways that the ENERGY STAR program could accelerate adoption of smart grid functionality in the product categories it covers. At a basic level, a smart grid-enabled product is one that has the capability to serve as a new energy resource for the electric grid, by reducing or delaying its operation in response to signals communicated from a utility or third-party service operator. Two options that are most recently under consideration are an allowance against ENERGY STAR limits and extra recognition for smart grid functionality, for example designating those models as smart grid-capable on the ENERGY STAR qualified product lists.

EPA is hoping to better enable consumers to identify the most efficient refrigerators, irrespective of configuration, to address high market share for certain energy-intensive configurations, and to address the concerns that refrigerators with high absolute energy consumption can qualify for the ENERGY STAR. A number of different changes have also been proposed to improve the overall efficiency of room air conditioners. These changes include revising the energy efficiency performance standards, requiring an air filter reminder in all ENERGY STAR qualified models, and an “Energy Saver Mode” that is set as the default operating mode. Smart grid functionality may also be incorporated into room air conditioner units (and refrigerators) along with the revised specifications. These revisions will likely go into effect in October 2012.