New Refrigerator Standards Cut Energy Usage by 25 Percent

New Department of Energy efficiency standards will cut the energy use of most new refrigerators by 25 percent and help save consumers money, create jobs, reduce pollution and spur innovation and investment, according to consumer, environment and energy efficiency groups.

"Refrigerator standards have been quietly saving consumers money while protecting our environment for more than 35 years," said David Goldstein, energy program co-director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But these new standards are the coolest yet, because they show that innovation can keep driving improvements even after decades of progress. New fridges do an even better job of keeping our food fresh and providing consumer amenity, yet they use only one-fifth the electricity they used to - and that means less pollution from power plants."

The standards have been strengthened three times now since their enactment in 1987. The latest standards are based on a joint recommendation filed in 2010 with DOE by the groups and refrigerator manufacturers represented by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.

The latest 25 percent savings builds on an impressive long-term trend. A typical refrigerator in 2014 will use about one-fifth as much electricity as one from the mid-1970s. Even as refrigerator energy use has dropped, average units have gotten both larger and less expensive. The average new fridge today is about 20 percent larger and costs about 60 percent less than a 1970s-era unit. 

"New fridges are bigger and cheaper than they've ever been, but due to several rounds of state and national efficiency standards they use much less energy," said Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. "These new standards will deliver even more benefits for consumers and the environment."

Once the new standards take effect in 2014, a typical fridge that exactly meets the new standards will use $215 to $270 less per year in electricity than a comparable unit which met the first state standards set in 1978. For more details, see here.

"We're pleased to see that our joint recommendation for improving the efficiency of refrigerators will become a reality," said Mel Hall-Crawford, energy projects director at Consumer Federation of America. "With an average lifespan of more than 17 years, the more efficient this essential household product can be, the better it is for consumers. These latest standards build on years of improvements - as a result, refrigerators have gone from being energy guzzlers to energy sippers."

According to DOE, the new standards over 30 years would save 4.84 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 30-year period, and taking into account up-front costs, consumers will save up to $36 billion.

DOE also estimates CO2 emissions will be cut by 344 million metric tons over 30 years, an amount equal to the annual emissions of about 67 million cars. Smog-forming NOx emissions and toxic mercury emissions would also be reduced dramatically.

U.S. refrigerator manufacturers have already begun making investments needed to meet the 2014 standards. For example, GE has already announced plans to update its refrigerator factories in Decatur, Ga., Bloomington, Ind., and elsewhere.

"Even as our refrigerators have gotten larger and more functional, with features like automatic defrost and through-the-door ice, their average energy use has plummeted," said Jeff Harris, senior vice president for programs at the Alliance to Save Energy. "It's clear that energy-efficiency standards have helped to create the market certainty that drives investments in such innovations, as well as better design, improved insulation and other components that make fridges better."

States led by California, New York and Florida set the first standards for refrigerators in the 1970s and 1980s. The original national standards were negotiated in 1986 and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. DOE updates to the national standards took effect in 1993 and 2001 and also were based on joint recommendations filed by consumer, environmental and industry groups. The most recent joint recommendation also addressed new minimum efficiency standards for dryers, washers, dishwashers and room air conditioners.

"In an era when hardly anyone in Washington can agree on anything, it's refreshing that consumer groups, environmentalists and industry can continue our long history of working together to save energy," said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. "Consumers, the environment and industry all benefit, making this standard a home run."


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