Battle joined over energy efficiency standards for fridges

A draft Directive setting minimum energy efficiency standards for refrigerators and freezers is about to be issued by the European Commission. The proposal has already been condemned by Greenpeace as unambitious, falling short of the recommendations of an advisory committee set up by the Commission itself, and likely soon to be overtaken by developments in refrigeration technology.

The European Commission's work on performance standards for products is part of its SAVE programme - Specific Action for Vigorous Energy Efficiency - announced in February 1992 (ENDS Report 205, p 36 ). SAVE, now in a much diluted form, is one component of the EC's programme to reduce its contribution to global warming.

The first energy efficiency standards Directive, published in June 1992, dealt with domestic boilers.1 The draft Directive on new household refrigerators, freezers and their combinations is next in the series and is expected to be published in September. A separate Directive on energy labelling of refrigerators is also being prepared (ENDS Report 214, p 40 ).

The initiative was sparked off by the Netherlands in January 1992 when it notified the Commission of its intention to introduce mandatory energy efficiency standards for refrigerators. These were to have required a 15% reduction in the average energy consumption of appliances on the market within ten months of their introduction.

The Commission ordered the Dutch to suspend their regulations because of their potential to obstruct free trade, and agreed instead to propose EC-wide mandatory standards within a year. Several months behind schedule, its proposals have fallen far short of those of the Dutch.

"In order to give the appliance industry time to adapt whilst ensuring progress to an achievable and economic level of efficiencies", the Commission has proposed a 10% improvement by 1997. A second "more demanding" but as yet unspecified level of energy efficiency would be introduced 3-4 years thereafter.

The Commission sees the first level as a "relatively modest improvement" affecting around half the models currently on the market. It would not be difficult to reach because, the Commission concedes, energy efficiency can be improved "easily and at only modest extra cost," reflecting the "low level of attention currently given to energy efficiency for most appliances produced."

The second target would be based on the efficiency improvements which would then be technically and economically feasible. Economic feasibility would be defined so that any extra capital costs incurred in manufacturing more energyefficient models would be offset by a payback to consumers from electricity savings within "about 3 to 5 years or less".

With current technology and economics, an explanatory memorandum prepared by the Commission says, the second-stage standard would be "about 30% more demanding" than the first-stage requirements, "indicating that the first level standard is still a considerable way from the optimal economic efficiency level." The memorandum notes that some models currently on the market use 50% or less electricity than the least efficient models. "Nor are more efficient models more expensive."

The short-term standard comes somewhere between that demanded by industry and that recommended by the Commission's advisory Group for Efficient Appliances (GEA) - a group comprising officials from the Danish, Dutch and French energy agencies.

Industry's offer was to cease production in the sector containing the 10% least energy-efficient appliances, which would only give an effective average improvement of about 2%.

On the other hand, GEA suggested three more stringent scenarios: a -10% standard in 1995 and a -38-55% standard in 1999; a -15% standard in 1995 and a -38-55% standard in 1999; and a -15% standard in 1997 and the long-term standard in 2001. However, the Commission has declined to accept any of these, suggesting that lobbying by the major appliance manufacturers has been highly effective.

Since only about 8-10% of domestic refrigeration appliances are replaced every year, the impact of the standards on electricity consumption will be slow to develop. Given this, and because energy efficiency will be improved without the standards, the Commission estimates that its proposals would lead to a net reduction in electricity consumption of 14TWh/year by 2000, from an anticipated consumption of 107TWh/year. This would be equivalent to 6 million tonnes per year of CO2 avoided. By 2010, consumption could be reduced to 73TWh/year. The GEA's recommendations, however, would have reduced consumption to 61-65TWh/year.

In a critique of the draft Directive due to be published in September, Greenpeace describes it as "weak". It also argues that the -10% standard could be met in less than a year. And rather than saving 6 million tonnes of CO2 per year, the extra savings will be only 3 million tonnes.

Historically, Greenpeace argues, the energy efficiency of refrigeration equipment has been improved at 2.5% per annum. However, the Commission and the GEA based their base-case scenarios on an improvement of just 1% per annum, without justification. Greenpeace believes that the historical rate is likely to be maintained as a result of the proposed energy labelling scheme, the EC's eco-labelling scheme and fiscal incentives for energy efficiency, making the real extra savings anticipated from the draft Directive significantly less than those calculated by the Commission.

The group has also criticised the timetable for implementation of the long-term standards. These are due to be set around 1997 and to enter into force around 2001-2002. This, the Commission believes, would allow the latest data on the cost and feasibility of the technical options and the impact of the first-stage standards to be considered. Greenpeace argues that the research work, at least on current technology, has already been conducted by the GEA.

The Commission has also failed to consider experience in the USA, says Greenpeace. In 1990, the US Department of Energy announced standards to be implemented in 1993 which would have reduced the average electricity consumption of refrigeration equipment by 25-30%. At the time only seven out of 2,114 models on the market reached the standards. Now they have been met with only a reported 1% increase in cost to the consumer. New standards, to be announced in 1995, are expected for 1998 which are likely to increase energy efficiency by an extra 25-50%.

Greenpeace's critique also takes both the GEA and the Commission to task for looking only at current proven technologies. Since between 70-95% of the electrical load is attributed to the thermal performance of the insulation any improvement in insulation properties could rapidly improve efficiency.

And major improvements are on the horizon. Evacuated panel technologies reported to offer energy savings of over 80% are currently being developed. In the USA, vacuum panels manufacturer Owens-Corning has teamed up with refrigerator manufacturer Maytag and is about to begin production of fridges using all-in-one vacuum panel insulation. Other manufacturers, including Bosch and Electrolux, are also believed to be active.

Greenpeace will be campaigning for a -15% standard from 1995, a -44-50% standard by 1997 and fresh targets to be set every three years. It will also be lobbying for independent testing. The draft Directive puts forward a self-policing regime.

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