EPIBuilding a Sustainable Future
Lester R. Brown

Chapter 11. Raising Energy Efficiency: Energy-Efficient Appliances

Although many people know that CFLs use only one fourth as much electricity as incandescent light bulbs, considerably fewer know that a similar range of efficiencies exists for many household appliances, such as refrigerators. 19

The U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005 included a rise in efficiency standards that will reduce electricity demand enough to avoid building 29 coal-fired power plants. Other provisions in the act—such as tax incentives that encourage the adoption of energy-efficient technologies, a shift to more combined heat and power generation, and the adoption of real-time pricing of electricity (a measure that will discourage optional electricity use during peak demand periods)—would cut electricity demand enough to avoid building an additional 37 coal-fired power plants. Appliance efficiency standards and other measures in the bill will also reduce natural gas consumption substantially. Altogether, these measures will reduce consumer electricity and gas bills in 2020 by over $20 billion. 20

Taking into account recent technological advances, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) proposed in March 2006 to raise the bar further for 15 appliances. Included in this group were residential furnaces, pool heaters, and DVD players. If these new standards were adopted in 2008, the ACEEE calculates that they would reduce 2020 electricity demand by 52 billion kilowatt-hours, which would be enough to avoid another 16 coal-fired power plants. The reduction in CO2 emissions in 2020 from adoption of these standards would be equal to taking 8 million cars off the road. Better still, for every $1 invested in more-efficient appliances, consumers will save over $4 on their electricity and gas bills. 21

With appliance efficiency, the big challenge now is China. In 1980 its appliance manufacturers produced only 50,000 refrigerators, virtually all for domestic use. In 2004 they produced 30 million refrigerators, 73 million color TVs, and 24 million clothes washers, many of which were for export. 22

Market penetration of these modern appliances in urban China today is similar to that in industrial countries. For every 100 urban households there are 133 color TV sets, 96 washing machines, and 70 room air conditioners. In rural areas there are 75 color TVs and 40 washing machines for every 100 households. This phenomenal growth in household appliance use in China, along with the extraordinary growth of industry, raised China’s electricity use sevenfold from 1980 to 2004. Although China had established standards for most appliances by 2005, the standards are not strictly enforced. 23

The other major concentration of appliances is in the European Union, home to 490 million people. Greenpeace notes that even though Europeans on average use roughly half as much electricity as Americans or Canadians, they still have a large potential for reducing their usage. A refrigerator in Europe uses roughly half as much electricity as one in the United States, for example, but the most efficient refrigerators on the market today use only one fourth as much electricity as the average refrigerator in Europe—a huge opportunity for improvement. 24

But this is not the end of the efficiency trail. There is still a wide gap between the most efficient appliances on the market and the efficiency standards just proposed. And advancing technology keeps raising the efficiency potential.

Among industrial countries, Japan’s Top Runner Program is the most dynamic system for upgrading appliance efficiency standards. In this system, the most efficient appliances today set the standard for those sold tomorrow. With this program Japan planned to raise efficiency standards between the late 1990s and the end of 2007 for individual appliances by anywhere from 15 to 83 percent, depending on the appliance. This is an ongoing process that continually exploits advances in efficiency technologies. 25

In an analysis of potential energy savings by 2030 by type of appliance, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) put the potential savings from reducing electricity for standby use—that consumed when the appliance is not being used—at the top of the list. As of 2007, the estimated share of electricity used by appliances in standby mode worldwide is up to 10 percent of total electricity consumption. At the individual household level in OECD countries, standby power ranged from a low of perhaps 30 watts to a high of over 100 watts in both U.S. and New Zealand households. Since this power is used around the clock, even though the wattage is relatively low, the cumulative use of electricity is substantial. 26

Some governments are capping the amount of standby power used by TV sets, computers, microwaves, DVD players, and so on at 1 watt per appliance. South Korea, for example, is mandating a 1-watt limit on standby levels for many appliances by 2010. Australia is doing the same for nearly all appliances by 2012. 27

A U.S. study estimates that roughly 5 percent of U.S. residential electricity use is consumed by appliances in standby mode. If this figure dropped to 1 percent, which could be done easily, it would reduce electricity use enough to avoid building 17 coal-fired power plants. If China were to lower its standby losses accordingly, it could avoid building an even larger number of power plants. 28

Climate change is a global phenomenon requiring a global response. The time has come to set worldwide efficiency standards for all household appliances that are determined by the most efficient models on the market today, like Japan’s Top Runner Program. The standards would be raised every few years to take advantage of the latest technological gains in efficiency.

The principal reason that consumers do not buy the most energy-efficient appliances is because the improved design and insulation increase the upfront costs. If, however, societies adopt a carbon tax reflecting the health care costs of breathing polluted air and the costs of climate change, the more efficient appliances would be economically much more attractive.

Although we lack sufficient data to make a detailed calculation of the electricity that can be saved by adopting the more advanced appliance efficiency standards, we are confident that a worldwide set of appliance efficiency standards keyed to the most efficient models on the market would lead to energy savings in the appliance sector approaching or exceeding the 12 percent of world electricity savings from more efficient lighting. This being the case, gains in lighting and appliance efficiencies alone would enable us to avoid building 1,410 coal-fired power plants—more than the 1,382 new coal-fired power plants projected by the International Energy Agency (IEA) to be built by 2020. 29

Previous Table of Contents Next


19. IEA, op. cit. note 6, p. 38.

20. Steven Nadel, The Federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 and Its Implications for Energy Efficiency Program Efforts (Washington, DC: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), September 2005).

21. Steven Nadel et al., Leading the Way: Continued Opportunities for New State Appliance and Equipment Efficiency Standards (Washington, DC: ACEEE, March 2006), p. v.

22. Jiang Lin, “One Rice-cooker, Two Cell Phones, and Three TVs: Consumer Appliances and the Energy Challenge for China,” BusinessForum China, November/December 2005, p. 19.

23. Jiang Lin, “Appliance Efficiency Standards and Labeling Programs in China,” Annual Review of Energy and the Environment, vol. 27 (2002), pp. 349–67.

24. U.N. Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision Population Database, at esa.un.org/unpp, updated 2007; Greenpeace, “Your Energy Savings,” at www.greenpeace.org/ international/campaigns/climate-change.

25. Marianne Haug et al., Cool Appliances: Policy Strategies for Energy Efficient Homes (Paris: IEA, 2003).

26. Ibid.; Alan K. Meier, A Worldwide Review of Standby Power Use in Homes (Berkeley, CA: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2002).

27. Lloyd Harrington et al., Standby Energy: Building a Coherent International Policy Framework—Moving to the Next Level (Stockholm: European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, March 2007).

28. Meier, op. cit. note 26.

29. Projected coal-fired electricity generation in 2020 is 4,352 billion kilowatt-hours more than in 2006, from IEA, op. cit. note 2, p. 493.


Copyright © 2008 Earth Policy Institute