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Can New Refrigerators Help Cool Global Warming?

RP Siegel | Friday September 2nd, 2011 | 0 Comments

News of global warming continues to worsen, with epic storms and melting Siberian permafrost. As assaults continue on the already beleaguered atmosphere in the form of massive, dirty energy projects pushed through by a new cadre of increasingly ignorant politicians, there are, indeed, a steady stream of efforts, some tiny, some substantial, that are actually trying do something about the problem.

One of these came out of Washington last week in the form of a new set of energy efficiency standards for refrigerators.

According to the DOE’s announcement, these new standards, “developed through a consensus process with manufacturers, consumer groups and environmentalists,” will ultimately save “enough electricity each year to power 3.4 million homes, about the same number of homes as the entire state of Virginia.  The standards will also avoid more than 340 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over 30 years.”

This is a significant number. Implemented in the US alone, it represents more than 1% of one of Princeton scientists, Pacala and Socolow’s seven wedges that will be required to stabilize our climate by 2054. And considering that “these standards are part of a broader DOE effort designed to help families save money by saving energy by increasing the efficiency of residential and commercial appliances and products,” the resulting new standards for more than thirty household and commercial products will account for more than ten times these reductions altogether.

Refrigeration is the third largest consumer of energy in the home after central heating/cooling and hot water heating. It is the highest among those devices we generally think of as appliances. This measurement is often confused when you consider the amount of power that devices consume when they are on, which in the case of ovens or electric dryers is generally higher. But when the amount of time that a device runs for over the course of a year is factored in, refrigerators use more total energy and therefore have a greater impact.

According to EnergyStar, a typical refrigerator today (frost-free, 17.5 cubic feet, top freezer) uses about 1195 kWh per year. A comparable unit meeting the new standards might use only 408 kWh in a year, which might actually drop it down the list. This is exactly what we want to do in a kind of leap-frog energy-saving game. If your electricity cost 11 cents per kWh, then you would be saving $86.56 per year on your electric bill with one of these new units.

Overall, the efficiency of refrigerators rolling off the assembly line in 2014 will be 25% better than those being built today, which are already 30% better than those built 10-15 years ago. So if you have a really old fridge, your savings will be even greater.

Of course, once the new standards are set, in order for any refrigerator to qualify for an Energy Star rating, it would have to exceed that standard by 20% or more.

I can assure you that they will, since there are already refrigerators available today that meet these standards.

One thing I am less sure of, is whether this kind of aggressive push to improve efficiency could have been achieved without the government playing the role that they have. Because despite what the free-market pundits say, yes, customers want higher efficiency too, but there is no market signal that carries the required level urgency concerning global warming. And if such a signal were to eventually emerge, unfortunately, it would be far too late.

But if you want to do something to help reduce the impact of global warming today, you might want to check out one of these energy efficient fridges. And then, of course, there is always the question of what you put in that fridge…

[Image credit:alexmuse:Flickr Creative Commons]

 

RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water.  Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


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