Appliance Design · Budget-wise · Energy Efficiency · Refrigerator · Sustainability

Refrigerators, freezers will use 25% less energy, DOE says

Energy Secretary Steven "I'm lookin' out for" Chu announced he will bite the straw of the one of the biggest power-suckers in the home in two years.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced Tuesday a 20-25 percent increase in the minimum energy efficiency standards of new refrigerators and freezers by 2014.

The news release goes on to talk about billions of dollars saved for consumers over 30 years, which kind of makes my eyes glaze over. What the heck does that mean for me?

Look at it this way: today’s fridges already best their 1970s counterparts’ energy use by one-third, and back then annual operation cost  an average of $259 versus an average of $54 per year for today’s standard-efficiency unit. An Energy Star unit currently costs an average of $43 to operate annually.

Energy Star refrigerators already use 20 percent less energy than the federal standard, so basically, new fridges in 2014 will become at least as efficient as today’s Energy Star fridges, meaning annual operating costs will drop about $11. And if Energy Star standards increase alongside minimum standards in response (using a conservative 20 percent efficiency increase), average operating costs of an Energy Star refrigerator will look more like $34 per year. That’s of course assuming energy costs remain constant, but I just wanted to make savings concrete rather than throw this at you (from the release):

According to the Department’s analysis, the proposed standards could save nearly 4.5 quads (quadrillion BTUs) over 30 years, equivalent to three times the amount of energy used in refrigerators and freezers in American homes in one year.  The standard, as proposed, would also eliminate the need for up to 4.2 gigawatts of generating capacity by 2043, equivalent to 8-9 coal-fired power plants nationwide.   The savings would reduce cumulative carbon dioxide emissions by 305 million metric tons between 2014 and 2043.

(Come again?)

Also, standards didn’t necessarily account for how many consumers actually used their refrigerators. From a spokesman for an energy-efficiency advocacy group:

“Even though refrigerators have become much more energy efficient, they still account for about 10 percent of household electricity use,” observed Alliance to Save Energy Vice President for Programs Jeffrey Harris. “With the new standards, consumers will not only save energy, they’ll also have a better picture of total energy use, because the ratings will include automatic ice makers.”

Over the next year, the DOE also plans to evaluate standards for central air conditioners, room air conditioners, furnaces, clothes washers, clothes dryers and dishwashers.

My fridge is 15 years old, so I expect huge improvements when I replace it. How old is your refrigerator? Will new improved energy efficiency motivate you to replace your unit faster, because of faster payback? More importantly, did reading this article make you feel guilty about using your “but it still runs” fridge from the 70s to cool a couple of beers in your basement?

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