New Regulatory Requirements Strain Refrigeration Equipment Supply Chain
May 19, 2017
In the spring of 2014, the United States Department of Energy (DOE) announced a new efficiency standard for commercial refrigeration equipment to be effective as of March 2017 (1). This new standard supersedes the regulation that had been put in place in the 2009-2010 time period and requires significant reduction in energy consumption to be achieved by March 2017. The types of refrigeration equipment covered by the increased DOE regulation include reach-in units, walk-in units and ice makers. These units are ubiquitous in supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience stores, and restaurants and operate 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. The energy consumption of these units represent up to 40% of the total energy use for these types of activities.

These new regulatory requirements will make the average commercial refrigeration equipment on average 30% more efficient in comparison to the current standards, with energy consumption reduction of 30-50%, 5-15% and 20-40% for Reach-ins, Walk-ins, and Ice Makers, respectively.

The DOE has evaluated the life-cycle costs (2) and payback periods (3) associated with the implementation of the new regulatory requirements. At unit level, the new energy regulation will produce average life-time savings as high as $5,000 with median payback periods ranging between 1 and 7 years depending on the equipment class. On a global scale, the lifetime savings associated with commercial refrigeration equipment purchased in the next 30-year period will amount to 2.89 quadrillion British thermal units (quads). The corresponding environmental benefits include considerable reductions of CO2, CH4 and SO2 emissions which, according to the DOE, are as high as 142 million metric tons, 762 thousand tons, and 207 thousand tons, respectively.

The new regulatory requirements, effective as of March 2017, require a prompt response from both the manufactures as well as the entire refrigeration equipment supply chain. The first immediate implications will include increased testing and certification to guarantee compliance of the refrigeration equipment. In certain instances, the entire refrigeration unit architecture may need to be re-engineered by heavily relying on more effective design and operational strategies to reduce energy consumption.

A number of energy efficient design options have been proposed by DOE, including but not limited to:

  • Higher efficiency/variable speed compressors
  • Higher efficiency condenser/evaporator fan motors and blades
  • Thicker case insulation
  • Improved doors with anti-sweat heaters
  • High-efficient lighting (LED) with motion sensors
  • Night curtains.

It is also expected that innovative technologies at both component and system levels will be introduced in markets to meet the tighter regulatory requirements. As a result, new testing methodologies are being developed to guarantee regulatory compliance of products and technologies not yet envisioned by the current standards.

How Exponent Can Help

Exponent has significant experience with supporting clients throughout the entire regulatory certification process for several classes of equipment, including but not limited to refrigeration units and heat pump systems.

Examples of client support activities include:

  • Valuation of optimal design solutions to achieve regulatory compliance
  • Evaluation of optimal equipment operations to meet energy efficiency constraints
  • Review of applicable Federal Codes and industry standards
  • Evaluations and development of ad-hoc testing solutions for innovative equipment not covered by current codes and standards
  • Technical support for testing procedure waivers. 


  1. Federal Register, Vol 79, No. 60, March 28, 2014.
  2. Life-cycle cost is the total customer cost over the life of the equipment including purchase and installation costs as well as operating costs. 
  3. Payback period is the estimated amount of time it would take customers to recover the purchase price of more-efficient equipment.


  • Code of Federal Regulations, Title 10, Chapter II, Subchapter D, part 431
  • E360 Outlook Volume 1, Issue 2 – DOE Regulations Drive Significant Energy Reductions
  • U.S. Department of Energy, May 2014, Technical Support Document: Energy Efficiency Program for Consumer Products and Commercial and Industrial Equipment, Walk-in coolers and walk-in freezers
  • U.S. Department of Energy, February 2014, Technical Support Document: Energy Efficiency Program for Consumer Products and Commercial and Industrial Equipment, Commercial Refrigeration Equipment
  • U.S. Department of Energy, March 2014, Technical Support Document: Energy Efficiency Program for Consumer Products and Commercial and Industrial Equipment, Automatic Commercial Ice Makers
  • Federal Register, Vol 79, No. 60, March 28, 2014.