This article was originally published in the January/February 1998 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.
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Home Energy Magazine Online January/February 1998
Energy Efficiency in the European Union
by Benoît Lebot and Paul Waide
Encouraged by the European Union (EU) labeling scheme for energy-efficient appliances, manufacturers in Europe are bringing out lines of more efficient products that showcase new technologies. At last year's Domotechnica trade fair in Cologne, Germany, 1,700 companies from 52 countries turned out to strut their stuff.
The 1997 fair showed that appliance manufacturers have made visible and quantifiable efforts to introduce more energy-efficient appliances onto the market (see Some Highlights of the Domotechnica 1997 show). This positive development is a result of policy initiatives by the European Commission, and in particular of the EU-wide mandatory energy performance labeling scheme for appliances.Cool Transformation In 1995, refrigerators and freezers were the first appliances to be labeled under the EU energy labeling scheme. The energy label, which must be displayed on the appliance at the point of sale, gives information about its performance and physical characteristics, including the annual consumption of energy (in kWh per year) and the storage volume of the compartments (in liters). The label also gives information concerning the relative energy efficiency of the appliance through the use of a colored, graduated scale ranging from the most efficient class--A, marked in green--to the least efficient class--G, marked in red (see Figure 1).
P>The display of this new label isn't yet mandatory for product promotions at professional exhibitions and trade fairs. At Domotechnica 1997, manufacturers were divided between those who made use of the energy label and those who did not. In some cases, manufacturers only displayed the label on their more efficient models (classes A, B or C).
Two recent analyses of the French and European markets quantify the progress in energy efficiency achieved so far. These show that the energy efficiency of European refrigerators and freezers has improved significantly since 1993, when HFC 134A and hydrocarbons were chosen as CFC substitutes. The studies forecast that this improvement in cold appliance energy efficiency would save 2,7803 kWh of electricity and reduce consumer bills to the value of 39 billion ECU (U.S.$43.7 billion) by the year 2020, even without the introduction of minimum energy efficiency standards. However, a new European Directive passed on September 3, 1996, will impose mandatory minimum energy efficiency standards for refrigerators and freezers in 1999, and this will certainly encourage European manufacturers to improve the performance of their least efficient appliances (see Figure 2).
At Domotechnica, several manufacturers revealed new lines of refrigerators and freezers that were dominated by high-efficiency models. The German manufacturer AEG (Allgemeine Elektrizitaetsgesellschaft--or General Electricity Company) has stated that in the future at least 80% of its appliances will be in the efficiency classes A or B. This came about as a result of an agreement between AEG and the World Wildlife Fund called Consensus 25, through which AEG has pledged to improve the energy efficiency of its products by an average of 25% between 1995 and 1999.
The improved energy efficiency of European-made refrigerators and freezers is opening a gap between European models and non-European models. General Electric (GE), a major U.S. manufacturer, is offering a wide range of U.S.-made refrigerators for sale in Europe. When tested according to the European standard, the models in General Electric's catalog are on average 42% less energy efficient than those offered by European manufacturers Electrolux and Bosch-Siemens (see Figure 3). The best energy label ranking in GE's EnergySmartÃ¢â€Ãƒâ€¦Ã‚Â¾Â¢ line of US-made refrigerators was a C. Most of their more efficient models are manufactured in Europe.
The improvements observed in European cold appliances have been achieved principally through advances in the quality of insulation. More manufacturers are using low-conductivity evacuated panel technology, although it is usually confined to their top-of-the-line models. This technology makes it possible to achieve optimum efficiency with thin walls, freeing up storage space.
Unfortunately, one of the most important manufacturers of evacuated panels, Owens Corning, has announced the suspension of its product line. However, several alternatives are available. A German appliance manufacturer is producing its own evacuated panels; Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) is producing lightweight and comparatively cheap panels that are made of evacuated expanded polyurethane and which have conductivity values several times lower than traditional polyurethane foams; and a Turkish refrigerator manufacturer has encased evacuated insulation panels, not in polyurethane foam, but in preformed blocks of expanded polystyrene (EPS) encapsulated in plastic panels of the same material. This assembly facilitates recycling of the material at the end of the appliance's life.
Numerous manufacturers have achieved higher refrigerator and freezer efficiencies by redesigning their cabinets to use thicker conventional foam insulation. Other technical solutions include the use of high-efficiency compressors, improved heat exchangers, and electronic control systems to improve the regulation of compartment temperatures.
Many refrigerator and freezer manufacturers claim that the efficiencies of their best compressors have improved by 40% compared with conventional models. This is achieved mostly through the use of variable- or rated-speed drive systems linked to electronic controls. These compressors are available with a wide range of cooling capacities and are both hydrocarbon and HFC 134A refrigerants.
The trend toward efficient (class A or B) refrigerator-freezers with only one exterior door has received less publicity. Traditional refrigerator-freezers have two independent doors (one each for the refrigerator and the freezer compartments), but these two-door appliances rarely rank better than class B. The apparent shift in the market toward more single-door refrigerator-freezers with small freezer compartments may be an indirect consequence of the energy label requirement. This trend will probably be at the expense of single-door refrigerators rather than two-door refrigerator-freezers, since the freezer compartment in the single-door models appears to be too small to make them competitive with the two-door refrigerator-freezers.Washer Wisdom Since Domotechnica 1995, the European clothes washer market has seen notable improvement in performance with respect to water and energy consumption because of several reasons. This improvement is related to several factors. The first is the introduction of the new energy label for these appliances. The clothes washer energy label now rates washers and dryers on the energy performance of the clothes washer (based on a 60°C wash cycle rather than the old 90°C) and the quality of the washing and spin drying. The energy efficiency index, defined as the ratio of the energy consumption measured during a 60°C wash cycle to the dry weight (in kilograms) of a full load of clothes, is used to classify the machine according to one of seven energy label categories, from A to G, according to its energy performance.
The second factor is the European Commission's decision to impose mandatory minimum energy efficiency standards for clothes washers. The European industry doesn't want new mandatory standards. It has entered into discussions with the European Commission to reach a voluntary agreement to improve the energy efficiency of European clothes washers.
The technical solutions to reducing the energy consumed by clothes washers while improving washing performance mainly involve optimizing the programming and control of the wash cycles. These are soft options, as opposed to hard options, which might require a major restructuring of the physical design of the machine. This explains how the industry in general has managed to introduce rapid, low-cost improvements in energy performance.
The cycle programming for some top-of-the-line machines is now held in a reprogrammable chip that can be updated by the manufacturer's technicians in the purchaser's home to incorporate improved cycles account for future developments in detergents. In theory, this option will extend the life of the appliance. At the very least, it should allow the purchaser to profit from future advances in clothes-washing technology.
Almost all of today's European manufacturers have some machines that can complete a full wash cycle using less than 60 liters (15.8 U.S. gallons) of water. The energy label and the voluntary agreements reached with the European industry have already led manufacturers to remove energy-inefficient models from the market. Future energy economies will come by encouraging consumers to use cooler water washes and higher spin speeds, and to run fewer small loads.
Understanding that the control panel can help guide consumers toward the most efficient use of machines has led AEG to install interactive commands in some of its new models. For example, when the spin speed is selected, the amount of residual moisture left in the clothes at the end of the cycle is displayed automatically. The user quickly learns that higher spin speeds reduce drying time. Another panel automatically indicates the washing time associated with the water temperature of any wash. AEG hopes that in this way it can interest the user in the operational costs of the machine. However, it will only be possible to verify the savings from these kinds of measures by conducting some discrete end-use measurement campaigns.Dryers Still Hogging the Kilowatts Clothes dryers, like refrigerators, freezers, and clothes washers, must display an energy label at the point of sale. However, all the clothes dryers at Domotechnica were in the energy classes C, D, or E. For maximum efficiency, entirely different technology is needed.
AEG displayed a prototype using an electric heat pump, the Öko-Lavatherm WP, which is a big improvement in energy efficiency but extremely expensive. The machine heats air at the condenser and circulates it within the drum. The air picks up moisture in the drum and passes over an evaporator which enables the vapor to condense. Unfortunately, this costs twice as much as the standard models, which use an electric-resistance heater to dry the laundry. The 40%-50% energy savings achieved with this machine take it into class A. The refrigerant currently used in the heat pump is HFC 134A: AEG would prefer to use a hydrocarbon refrigerant, but it is concerned that the quantity of fluid needed--about 250 grams--might pose a risk of fire or explosion in the event of a leak. Hydrocarbons are commonly used in domestic refrigerators, but only those appliances require 50 to 80 grams.
Thanks to this prototype, AEG has a good chance of winning the contest organized by a consortium of energy agencies under the umbrella of the International Energy Agency. A press conference was held during Domotechnica to announce the terms of the competition. Manufacturers are challenged to put onto the market class A clothes dryers that use neither CFCs nor HFCs and sell for less than 1,000 ECU (about U.S.$1,120).
Heat pump or gas-fired clothes dryers and hot-fill clothes washers (compared to the typical cold-fill washers with internal-resistance heaters) represent promising alternative demand-side technologies. They may be particularly useful in helping to avoid the need to upgrade power transmission lines in rural areas.Sleep with the Dishes Almost all the manufacturers present at Domotechnica produce dishwashers that use less than 20 liters (5.3 U.S. gallons) of water per wash cycle. The best appliances use 15 liters (4.0 U.S. gallons) of water. This progress has been achieved by modifying the design of the rotating sprayer arms, improving the filtration system, and reducing water consumption. Increasingly, efforts have been made to reduce the level of noise; the quietest machines now emit less than 43 decibels and are barely audible.
Overall, Domotechnica 1997 was encouraging from the perspective of appliance energy efficiency. The challenge now is to bring all those innovations into the European market. Appliance manufacturers have shown some dynamism in proposing new technological solutions. Will retailers follow the trend? To what extent will homeowners see an energy-efficient product in the store, buy it, and use it properly? After manufacturers bring the products to market, policy makers, energy efficiency institutions, utility companies, and consumer associations need to maintain and pursue further efforts toward a more energy- efficient economy.
Paul Waide is the director of PW Consulting, an energy efficiency consulting firm based in the U.K. and France. Benoît Lebot is an administrator for the Energy Efficiency Policy Analysis Division at the International Energy Agency in Paris.
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