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The Proof is in the Pudding: How Refrigerator Standards Have Saved Consumers $Billions

July 11, 2011 - 12:33pm


Today’s refrigerators have been designed to save energy and money without detriment to capacity,
functionality, or extra features. | Image source: Building Technologies Program

Today’s refrigerators have been designed to save energy and money without detriment to capacity, functionality, or extra features. | Image source: Building Technologies Program

What’s your favorite late night snack – that go-to treat that melts away the troubles of the day as you curl up in front of the TV? Perhaps it’s a creamy bowl of Rocky Road or maybe some delicious, spicy Szechuan chicken left over from a recent take-out feast. Refrigerator-finds like these may make you feel bad about indulging in guilty pleasures, but at least you don't have to feel bad about how high your energy bill will be to cure your cravings. That’s because of innovative technology and meaningful energy conservation standards put into place by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's Building Technologies Program.

In recent decades, the Energy Department has led technological innovation that vastly improved the energy efficiency of our refrigerators and freezers (and thousands of other household appliances). As a result, it’s a lot easier on your pocket and on the environment to keep that ice cream at peak frosty perfection. In fact, today’s refrigerators use only about 25 percent of the energy that was required to power models built in 1975. Even while continually improving efficiency to meet standards, refrigerators have increased in size by almost 20 percent, have added energy-using features such as through-the-door ice, and provide more benefits than ever before. Refrigerators today can be customized to fit consumer needs with touch-screen displays, glass doors, or even a beer tap.

The dramatic rise in efficiency began in response to the oil and energy crises of the 1970s when refrigerators typically cost about $1,300 when adjusted for inflation, a hefty price to pay for an energy waster. Refrigeration labels and standards have improved efficiency by two percent per year since 1975. Due to research, useful tools, partnerships with utilities and other organizations, and market initiatives that helped enable refrigerator and other appliance standards, the Energy Department has helped avoid the construction of up to 31 1-GW power plants with the energy saved since the first Federal standards in 1987. That’s the same amount of electricity consumed by Spain annually.

The Department will soon have strengthened the standards for household refrigerators three times. Each time, manufacturers have responded with new innovations that enabled their products to meet the new requirements and often to exceed them. Refrigerators that performed above and beyond the minimum standards qualified for the ENERGY STAR label, motivated consumers to care about energy usage, and primed the market for continued efficiency improvements.

Decades worth of progressive energy-efficiency standards for refrigerators have translated into big savings for consumers. Compared to refrigerators of the 1970s, today's refrigerators save the nation about $20 billion per year in energy costs, or $150 per year for the average American family.

The next proposed increase in refrigerator and freezer efficiency -- scheduled to take effect in 2014 -- will save the nation almost four and a half quadrillion BTUs over 30 years. That’s three times more than the total energy currently used by all refrigeration products in U.S. homes annually. It’s also the equivalent amount of energy savings that could be used to power a third of Africa for an entire year

The Energy Department is continuing to invest even more in future innovations for energy efficient products. So go ahead and indulge with those late night snacks and frozen treats. Your fridge has you covered.

To learn more about Appliance Standards and how they save consumers money go to the Building Technologies Program website.