Refrigeration is an example of targeted energy efficiency research producing remarkable results: a reduction of more than two-thirds in the energy consumed by the household refrigerator during the past 30 years. In 1974, the average consumption per refrigerator was 1,800 kilowatt-hours per year, and average sizes were increasing as well. At that point, a joint government-industry R&D initiative began looking for more efficient compressors, as well as improvements in design, motors, insulation, and other features.
By the early 1980s, electricity consumption per refrigerator had dropped by one-third and new developments kept coming.
The effort began to pay off almost immediately. By the early 1980s, electricity consumption per refrigerator had dropped by one-third and new developments kept coming. Even the changeover from ozone-threatening chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) did not impede progress. Further design enhancements and tighter government standards since 1990 have saved the nation an estimated $15 billion in total electricity costs for home refrigerators over the entire life of the appliances.
Some of that benefit has been offset by an increase in the use of multiple refrigerators in homes and businesses, a common market response when new technologies reduce energy consumption, and therefore costs. But that does not diminish the value of the remarkable improvements in efficiency for this appliance.