This article was originally published in the January/February 1996 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.


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Home Energy Magazine Online January/February 1996


United States Leads in Refrigerator Efficiency

Japan recently adopted the International Standards Organization (ISO) energy test procedure for measuring the energy use of its refrigerators. This is a closed-door, constant temperature test, similar to that used by the U.S. Department of Energy. Now it is easier to compare the energy use of Japanese, European, and U.S. refrigerators. Figure 1 shows the range of energy use for all three groups. Energy efficiency is expressed in kWh per year per liter of refrigerator capacity. (This is how the Europeans calculate efficiency.) For reference, an 18 ft3 refrigerator has a capacity of 510 liters.

While Japanese refrigerator efficiency has stagnated in the last decade, and European refrigerators have made modest gains, the U.S. units have jumped ahead of the pack. Some American units provide twice as much refrigerator capacity for the same amount of energy consumed as the Japanese units. Whirlpool's Golden Carrot refrigerators, and similar models offered by Whirlpool's competitors, ensure that the gap will widen.

This data summarized in Figure 1 should be interpreted with caution. First, Europeans and Japanese use smaller refrigerators than Americans, so the actual difference in energy use per refrigerator is much less than these figures indicate. Second, the refrigerators provide slightly different amenities. The European models are more spartan than the Japanese and U.S. models. Third, the U.S. energy test procedure differs slightly from the ISO test procedure. The U.S. test can yield a 2% to 46% higher energy use for the same refrigerator (thus the U.S. models may actually be further ahead than shown).

Most of the U.S. efficiency improvement occurred during the late 1980s, when Europe and Japan lacked efficiency standards. These most recent results demonstrate that the combination of U.S. federal efficiency standards and utility incentives (like the Golden Carrot) have successfully catapulted U.S. manufacturers to the forefront of energy efficiency.

-Alan Meier


Figure 1. Comparison of energy consumption per liter of frost-free refrigerator-freezers manufactured in the United States, Europe, and Japan in 1995.


Everything you wanted to know about energy-efficient refrigerators but were afraid to ask.

 Copies of Home Energy's special issue on refrigerators (Jan/Feb '93) are available for $5 (50% off the regular price) while supplies last. Send check or money order to:

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