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



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Home Energy Magazine Online March/April 1993




Super-Efficient Refrigerator Finalists

The Super-Efficient Refrigerator Program (SERP), has named Frigidaire Co. and Whirlpool Corp. as the two finalists who will compete in the much publicized $30 million race to manufacture the fridge of the future, a chlorofluorocarbon-free super-efficient model.

In the first such Golden Carrot program, SERP--a consortium that includes 25 utilities--will award the winner an incentive package totalling $30 million as it delivers the refrigerators to market. The next hurdle in the great refrigerator race comes in May, when the companies must present prototypes of their low-energy models and submit final proposals to SERP. The new refrigerators must beat the U.S. Department of Energy's 1993 consumption standards by 25-50% and may not use ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the main coolant in most units today (see Chasing the Golden Carrot, HE, Jan/Feb '93, p. 36).

The new refrigerators are expected to reduce energy consumption by 200-400 kWh compared to 1993 models. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that wide use of such refrigerators would save consumers $240-$480 million a year on their electric bills.

The SERP project is a formidable challenge to manufacturers who must use advanced technology at an accelerated rate while maintaining quality, performance, and features and conveniences that consumers expect--all at an acceptable price. We're approaching SERP's challenge very aggressively because it allows us to both build on our technical accomplishments and to define our targets in the area of energy efficiency and CFC elimination, said Frigidaire president Hans Backman.

Citing the proprietary nature of the SERP contest, the manufacturers declined to discuss the specific technologies that may be used in the prototypes. We're not giving any details on how we're going to get there, said Whirlpool spokeswoman Carol Sizer. When (SERP) decides if it's Whirlpool or if it's Frigidaire, then we can talk about the technology and how we'll do it.

There are several paths to a super-efficient refrigerator: radically improved insulation, thicker conventional insulation, more efficient compressors, or a combination of various options. The big guess is if they will have evacuated panels instead of foam insulation, said Isaac Turiel, an expert on appliances and energy efficiency at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Other changes may include more efficient fans for evaporators and condensers, as well as better gaskets, said Turiel. It's even possible that separate refrigeration systems could be used for the freezer and refrigerator compartments, he said.

Industry response to the SERP challenge was high, with hundreds of inquiries and 14 firm bids from major manufacturers. This is remarkable because only six manufacturers make all but a handful of the roughly 80 brand names of refrigerators sold in the United States.

Sizer said that even with $30 million in incentives, the super-efficient refrigerators may be an expensive proposition for manufacturers. We've invested $200 million to meet the (stringent new) 1993 standards, so $30 million is neat and we want it, but it isn't the windfall that it may sound like, said Sizer. People have to want to buy (the more efficient units). There's some real marketing and sales challenges here.

Instead of putting up money for research and development, SERP plans to distribute the $30 million as payments for each refrigerator distributed by the manufacturer. By accelerating their appearance in stores, SERP is betting that the market will broaden demand for the super-efficient refrigerators. SERP plans to announce the winning manufacturer in July. The new refrigerator would likely be available to the public as early as 1994.

-- Cyril Penn


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