It may not seem exciting, but a major energy efficiency upgrade goes into effect September 15.
That’s the day new refrigerators must be 25% more efficient – saving the energy a quarter of all US homes use each year, according to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. Including the higher up-front cost of buying these ultra-efficient appliances, homeowners will save $36 billion over the next 30 years, says the Department of Energy (DOE), or about $215-$270 each year for people who buy them.
The most energy consumptive appliance in peoples’ homes, the upgrade will cut carbon emissions equivalent to taking 70 million cars off the road for one year.
Last updated in 2001, refrigerator standards have been strengthened at least five times since the late 1970s. To meet this round of requirements, manufacturers are innovating by adding more insulation, higher efficiency compressors, improved heat exchange in the evaporator and condenser, and more efficient fan motors.
A 2012 report, Better Appliances: An Analysis of Performance, Features, and Price as Efficiency Has Improved, concludes that with more stringent standards, temperature performance has improved, new features have been added, and prices have dropped 35% since 1987, all while delivering a refrigerator that consumes half the annual energy.
As of September 15, manufacturers must begin making the next generation of refrigerators so you’ll see them in stores as their stock turns over. If you buy an Energy Star model that adds a minimum of another 10% in energy savings.
President Obama set a goal of using efficiency standards to cut 3 billion metric tons of carbon emissions by 2030 – and the US is two-thirds of the way there. New standards have been issued for a wide range of residential appliances: light bulbs, stoves and microwaves, residential clothes washers and dishwashers. On the commercial side, they apply to motors, boilers and water heaters, clothes washers, refrigeration and vending machine equipment.
DOE even created the first standards for central air conditioners and furnaces that vary based on region.
"If consumers upgraded to the most efficient products on the market today, we could save as much energy as Argentina uses in an entire year," says Sameer Kwatra at American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).
On January 1, 2015, the biggest energy hog in the home (uses more energy than refrigerators, but used less often) will also get an efficiency upgrade – clothes dryers.
Efficiency is the "first fuel" – contributing more to meeting US energy demands than all other resources combined over the past 40 years – more than coal, oil, or nuclear. Last year, the US used less energy than in 1999 even though we buy much bigger appliances, like refrigerators and TVs, and many more gadgets.