This article was originally published in the September/October 1993 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.



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Home Energy Magazine Online September/October 1993



Trends in Energy is a bulletin of residential energy conservation issues. It covers items ranging from the latest policy issues to the newest energy technologies. If you have items that would be of interest, please send them to: Trends Department, Home Energy, 2124 Kittredge St., No. 95, Berkeley, CA 94704.



Whirlpool Wins

Whirlpool Corporation has been named the winner of the much talked about Super Efficient Refrigerator Program (SERP) contest. Major U.S. appliance manufacturers competed against one another in a $30 million race to manufacture a chlorofluorocarbon-free super-efficient fridge. Whirlpool--the nation's second largest refrigerator maker--must now produce and distribute 250,000 SERP refrigerators during 1994-1997 to collect the prize. The fridges must be at least 25% more energy-efficient than 1993 federal standards require.

SERP, a consortium that includes 24 utilities, will award the $30 million golden carrot award in the form of rebates (roughly $100) as the refrigerators reach the market. The $30 million is derived from a pool. Utilities committed between $150,000 and $7 million each, with the amounts proportional to the number of residential customers they serve (see The Race to Make The Fridge of The Future, HE Jan/Feb '93, p.36, and Super-Efficient Refrigerator Finalists, HE Mar/Apr '93, p.9).

Manufacturers were judged on efficiency improvements and their ability to deliver the products to market and track customer purchases. Whirlpool and Frigidaire Company were selected as contest finalists in December 1992 and subsequently built prototypes and submitted final bids.

How did Whirlpool revamp its fridge? The most formidable challenge was replacing ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Whirlpool opted to replace CFC-11, used to insulate refrigerators, with HCFC-141b. The CFC-12 refrigerant, also known as Freon, was replaced with HFC-134a. These substitutions had a domino effect on other components of the refrigerator. For instance, the compressor had to be redesigned for HFC-134a. Along the way, valving changes and a more efficient motor made the new compressor more energy-efficient. While the first model will not use vacuum panels for insulation, (there was much speculation about whether it would) future SERP units may use this technology.

Other changes in the SERP unit include a redesigned condenser fan motor, a thicker front door, a new defrost control, and a simple change to a run-off pipe. The pipe, which is used for water during the defrost cycle, was bent to prevent warm air from moving back into the refrigerator--for a 1% energy savings. The defrost control is equipped with a microchip that uses fuzzy logic to adapt to temperature changes. Allowing the unit to defrost when needed instead of in regular cycles saves energy.

For proprietary reasons, Whirlpool refuses to be more specific about the technologies it is using in the SERP unit until it reaches the marketplace. And the company won't say exactly how much energy the first unit will use. All Whirlpool will divulge is that it exceeds the required 25% efficiency improvement. Whirlpool expects to eventually manufacture SERP refrigerators in a variety of models, but again, won't say which models or features will be available. Further, different models may require design changes.

The first model will be a side-by-side 22 ft3 refrigerator-freezer unit. Company spokeswoman Carol Sizer said Whirlpool went with this configuration because it already had developed a side-by-side unit that was 15% more efficient than 1993 federal standards required. (Federal regulations already require 1993 units to be nearly 30% more efficient than required in 1990.) Retailers will set the price, but Whirlpool will sell SERP units for the same price as comparable fridges (the same size with similar features).

The first model is not a low-end product. Similarly sized side-by-side units typically retail for $1,000-$1,400. We don't anticipate any difficulties selling these because they will be comparably priced, said Sizer. The big challenge will be selling them in non-SERP markets where there is no rebate.


--Cyril Penn


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