This article was originally published in the January/February 1993 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 1993




Refrigerators, The Grand Coulee Dam, And Coil-Cleaning Brushes


This issue of Home Energy focuses on refrigerators and their energy use. Why do refrigerators deserve so much attention? The pie charts show one reason: refrigerators use a lot of electricity. The combined electricity demand of refrigerators in the United States equals the electricity generated by all of the nation's dams. Alternatively, these refrigerators devour almost half of the electricity generated by the nation's nuclear power plants. Another reason for attention to refrigerators is that big changes are underway in the market. Few products are experiencing such a rapid pace of innovation. Thanks mostly to federal standards, tremendous improvements in efficiency are appearing in new refrigerators. As one article shows, essentially no 1991 models could meet the 1993 efficiency standards. As a result, every single refrigerator model has been upgraded in less than two years. The 1993 refrigerators use 40% less energy than similar models did only ten years ago. And it's important to realize that the manufacturers achieved these dramatic gains without sacrificing the size and features that we expect in refrigerators. If Detroit matched the refrigerator manufacturers, our new cars would be getting 45 miles per gallon, the cars would be larger, and they would have better acceleration than previous models.

In contrast to Detroit's resistance to higher efficiency, refrigerator manufacturers are participating in new projects that will reduce their unit consumption far below what is required by the latest government standards. The magnitude of this accomplishment is all the more significant because it is occurring while manufacturers are scurrying to find alternatives to ozone-depleating chlorofluuorocarbon gasses, or CFCs. The Golden Carrot program is a unique partnership between electric utilities and refrigerator manufacturers to produce the next generation of efficient refrigerators and the customers to buy them.

There is a flurry of new data about refrigerators. We now know much more about how refrigerators use energy in real homes. A good deal of this research is presented here for the first time and will not appear in the technical literature for a long time (if ever). One consequence of our increased knowledge is that some folklore can now be quantitatively dispelled. For example, utilities have long advised customers to clean the coils of their refrigerators and replace the gaskets. But studies described here demonstrate that the savings from such measures are negligible and, worse, can even backfire. No self-respecting utility should peddle coil-cleaning brushes to their customers. In a more general way, we now understand the factors influencing refrigerator energy use and how to make efficient refrigerators perform at their best.

    Alan Meier

Refrigerators use the entire hydroelectric output of the United States or almost half of the nuclear output.


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