HOW TO BUY AN
ENERGY EFFICIENT REFRIGERATOR
HOW TO BUY AN
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the typical household devotes 15% of its total energy budget to refrigerators and freezers. In the ultraconvenient homes we strive for, this fraction can become as large as 50% to 75% of our total demand for electricity. If we wished to power a typical 1990-era residential refrigerator with a solar photovoltaic array, we would need anywhere from 10 to 30 modules for this one appliance. Clearly, refrigeration systems should be carefully chosen in order to minimize their long-term impact on our energy budget and pocketbook.
A refrigerator/freezer is nothing more than a small, insulated room with an air conditioner which pulls the heat out of the room and anything in it (the food) and pumps the heat into the kitchen. Most conventional models have fans and heating elements in the walls to eliminate condensation and to melt ice. We pay for this "frost-free" convenience with greater energy consumption. The makers of refrigerators have evolved their products through years of declining electrical costs. Competition in the marketplace has focused on convenience features (cold-water dispensers, icemakers, "biggest on the inside," etc.), forsaking energy-efficient engineering. Sacrificing energy efficiency can result in more noise in operation and prolonged operating time. The convenience of frost-free operation results in low humidity, which promotes the rapid wilting of unprotected fruits and vegetables. This is why refrigerators have "crispers," which provide a small space isolated from the arid surroundings.
Anyone with a passing grade in high school physics would recognize that the condenser, which dissipates the heat removed from inside the refrigerator, should be located on top of the refrigerator. Heat does rise, and we would like it to get away from the space we are trying to cool. Some of us have seen older refrigerators designed this way. The refrigeration cycle is driven by a compressor, which also generates significant heat. This compressor, as well, would ideally be located remotely or on top of our cool space. But a few generations of "cheap" energy have made these logical, efficient practices secondary considerations: a smooth horizontal surface supporting wine racks or crayon buckets is now the norm. If we want to make the refrigerator "bigger on the inside," then why not just make the insulation in the walls that much thinner? Is it just a coincidence that some of the largest manufacturers of refrigerators and freezers also build electrical power plants? Perhaps, but we doubt it.
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