Energy Standards for Refrigerators Reflect Industry Consensus

January 1, 2011
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Advocacy groups and appliance manufacturers hailed a 25% increase in energy efficiency for most new refrigerators, starting in 2014, thanks to new efficiency standards that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced in September 2010, continuing a 40-year trend of improving energy efficiency. 

  The new standards are the first step in the department’s implementation of the recommendations they proposed to DOE in July of the same year for new minimum efficiency standards, tax credits and Energy Star incentives for smart appliances affecting six major categories of home appliances.

  “The consensus standards not only save consumers a huge amount of energy and money, they also save DOE the energy, time and money that a contentious rulemaking process can require,” said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP).

  “The appliance industry has a strong history in reaching agreement with a broad base of energy and water efficiency advocates, as well as consumer groups, to develop energy conservation standards for home appliances,” said Joseph McGuire, president of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM).

  According to the proposed rule, a typical new 20-cubic-foot refrigerator with the freezer on top would use about 390 kilowatt hours (kwh) per year, down from about 900 kwh/year in 1990 and about 1,700 kwh/year in the early 1970s. On a national basis, the standards would, over 30 years, save 4.5 quads of energy, or roughly enough to meet the total energy needs of one-fifth of all U.S. households for a year. Over the same period, the standards will save consumers about $18.5 billion. 

    “This big step forward for refrigerator efficiency proves that the well of innovation leading to energy savings is very, very deep,” said David B. Goldstein, energy program director for the Natural Resource Defense Council and winner of a MacArthur Prize for his work on refrigerator efficiency. “These standards pave the way for manufacturer investments in a next generation of products that demonstrate ever-increasing energy and cost savings.”

  Based on the July agreement, home appliance manufacturers and efficiency, environmental and consumer advocates have agreed to jointly pursue with Congress and the administration new standards for six categories of home appliances (refrigerators, freezers, clothes washers, clothes dryers, dishwashers and room air conditioners), a recommendation that Energy Star qualification criteria incorporate credit for Smart Grid capability and a package of targeted tax credits aimed at fostering the market for super-efficient appliances.

  While DOE or Congress can act on the standards, the extension of the manufacturers’ tax credit for super-efficient appliances requires new legislation.

    As part of the new refrigerator standards, ice maker energy consumption also will be reflected in product energy-use ratings, giving consumers a better way to gauge actual energy use when making a choice among refrigerators. 

  “Even though refrigerators have become much more energy efficient, they still account for about 10% 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.” 

    Several prior refrigerator standards, including those put in place in 1993 and 2001, are also the result of joint industry/advocate agreements.

“This kind of joint recommendation can expedite new standards,” said Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.  “By moving quickly to adopt the agreement, DOE encourages all parties who are willing to work in a collaborative way to agree on new standards.”  

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