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DOE Targets Higher Efficiency for Refrigerators

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has released a new proposed energy efficiency standard for residential refrigerators, refrigerator-freezers, and freezers. The proposed standard could save consumers as much as $18.6 billion over thirty years.

Since January 2009, the DOE has finalized new efficiency standards for more than twenty household and commercial products, which will cumulatively save consumers between $250 billion and $300 billion through 2030.

In August, home appliance manufacturers, their trade organization, and a nationwide coalition of energy and water efficiency supporters called for new national minimum efficiency standards, production tax credits for super-efficient appliances and inclusion of “smart grid” readiness as a feature of future Energy Star-qualified appliances. The groups recommended new standards to reduce new refrigerator and freezer energy use by up to 30 percent by January 2014.

Under the proposed DOE standard, the energy use of most refrigerator-freezers will decrease by 20 to 25 percent by 2014.

These advocacy groups and appliance manufacturers support the 25 percent increase in energy efficiency for most new refrigerators, starting in 2014. The groups say the new standards are the first step in the department’s implementation of the recommendations they proposed to DOE in July for new minimum efficiency standards, tax credits, and Energy Star incentives for smart appliances impacting six major categories of home appliances.

Groups calling for the higher energy efficiency standards include the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP), Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, Natural Resource Defense Council, Alliance to Save Energy, and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Under the proposed standard, a typical new 20-cubic-foot refrigerator with the freezer on top would use about 390 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year, down from about 900 kWh/year in 1990 and about 1,700 kWh/year in the early 1970s, according to the groups.

The DOE estimates that the proposed standards could save nearly 4.5 quads (quadrillion BTUs) over 30 years, equivalent to three times the amount of energy used in refrigerators and freezers in American homes in one year. It would also eliminate the need for up to 4.2 gigawatts of generating capacity by 2043, equivalent to eight or nine coal-fired power plants nationwide. The savings would reduce cumulative carbon dioxide emissions by 305 million metric tons between 2014 and 2043, according to the DOE.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) has been submitted for public comment. DOE will be accepting public comments, data and information on the proposed standards until Friday, November 26, 2010, including hosting a public meeting on Thursday, October 14, 2010 from 9 AM to 4 PM in Washington, DC. The final standard will be issued in December 2010, and go into effect in January 2014.

The DOE has also ramped up enforcement of appliance standards with nearly 70 different non-compliant products already removed from the market. In September, the DOE announced it was fining 27 companies over $3.5 million for selling products without certifying that they meet energy and water efficiency standards.

Sanyo Electronics received the largest single fine of over $300,000 for failing to certify a number of refrigerator and freezer models. Other companies that received fines include Daewoo International, DeLonghi America, General Electric Appliances and Stiebel Eltron.

Chart note: Shows the percent energy savings achieved by the proposed standards relative to current standards for select categories.

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