The Northwest is currently undergoing another jag of “extreme weather” to complement the huge snowfalls of last winter. All of this has prompted many people to seek air conditioned relief or simply hide in their basements. Perhaps some desperate souls are huddled by their refrigerators. It’s definitely not an efficient use of the fridge, but 103 degrees is hot, hot, hot. Luckily, many of the appliances we use to keep ourselves or our food cold are regulated for energy efficiency.
And, this summer, the Department of Energy (DOE) is engaged in a new review of many appliance categories that will continue through 2011. It will likely result in higher efficiency standards for our big household appliances. This review process is partially in response to a lawsuit a few years back that charged that the Department of Energy had failed to do its duty under federal laws passed in 1975 and 2005 to review and update appliance energy standards.
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These standards are an important part of reducing energy costs while cutting climate changing emissions. In fact, Earthjustice says that adopting the most stringent standards in this review “would cut emissions of more than 150 million metric tons of global warming gases each year, eliminate the need for 200 new power plants and save consumers $16 billion a year by 2030.” They are running a campaign this summer urging people to contact the DOE and insist these standards be adopted before the first deadline in August.
My interests in appliance efficiencies have to do with appliances in multi-unit housing. The problem of split incentives means that neither landlords nor property owners have much incentive to change out older appliances for newer more efficient ones because the owners, don’t pay the monthly energy bill and the renters don’t own the appliances.
So, I ran a little test here in the Sightline offices that gave me a chance to hang out by the refrigerator. We have a beautiful late 20th century Kelvinator, (I’m not the first to “test” the Kelvinator) model number MRT18CSCW. It’s a stunning piece of equipment and although its a decade old it gets the job done. But is it efficient?
Judging from a quick run through at the ENGERGY STAR website Sightline could save $150 dollars a year if we were to replace our refrigerator. Not much really. But still it would save some money and maybe the planet, right?
Well, I followed the links to products that were energy efficient. The cheapest fridge that meets the current efficiency standers runs about $600 plus tax. At our rate of savings, assuming the costs are constant, it would take us 5 years to make back the cost of the new fridge. Now if Waxman-Markey passes the Senate, our savings might increase as fossil fuel prices rise. But here in the Northwest our energy is so cheap it still wouldn’t save us much.
But a recent study by Mckinsey shows that savings from efficiencies could be big. The New York Times says that based on the report “an investment of $520 billion in improvements like sealing ducts and replacing inefficient appliances could produce $1.2 trillion in savings on energy bills through 2020.” So added all together these improvements will matter a lot nationwide.
And locally there are programs like Oregon’s efforts to encourage appliance replacement in multi-unit family homes by providing a tax credit for business owners under the Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) program. Unfortunately the BETC faced significant cuts by the legislature this last session—a step in the wrong direction.
More incentives like BETC’s appliance program to start retiring older, less efficient appliances is the right way to go because, if the McKinsey study is right, many residents of multi-unit housing would reap a share of those $1.2 trillion in savings. These efficiencies and incentives are also an important complimentary policy to any cap and trade program, ensuring both reduced CO2 and a fair distribution of the costs and savings among well-off and struggling families alike. Individual action can matter but cap and trade legislation, which provides for massive changes in energy efficiency, and programs like BETC have the biggest positive impacts.
Now I am headed back to the refrigerator to do some more “research.”
Update 7/30/2009: Alan informed me that we don’t pay our utilities directly, so we really wouldn’t even save $150 per year. Let us know, in the comments section, about your appliance and efficiency stories. Have you audited your own appliances? Have you replaced them? Has it made a difference?