Sunday, 11 May 2014

Why don't energy efficient freezers save money?

Having read a report which says that we Brits are the worst in Europe at buying energy efficient appliances [1], I decided to take a look at the financial savings that we are missing out on - and was shocked to find none at all. The higher purchase price of the energy efficient freezers and fridge-freezers I found completely offset the energy bill savings. However, having checked the calculations for the energy ratings, this may not be a fair comparison because the reported energy use figures for the A++ rated appliances I looked at are probably too high. This is because they were all rated for tropical climates and tested at 35C - they will use somewhat less than this in a normal UK kitchen.
Energy label for a chest freezer

I chose to look at fridges and freezers because they are on all the time, unlike washing machines and TVs which get far more use in some households than others. I used the John Lewis catalogue, as they have a reasonable range of appliances. Most cold appliances are now at least A+ but you can get up to A+++ - John Lewis had 189 fridge-freezers of which 46 are A++ or better.

I selected free standing fridge freezers up to 60cm wide. The table below compares the three cheapest A++ or better fridge freezers with the three cheapest A+ fridge freezers. I compared the total cost of purchase price plus 5, 10 and 20 years use - even after 20 years the most expensive of the three A+ fridge freezers would have cost less than the cheapest of the A++ ones. Though of course these appliances may not last 20 years. In particular, maybe the cheap ones won't last as long. This could make the more expensive ones better value in the end if they last longer, but that is a different calculation.

Fridge freezer model Rating Purchase price Energy use kWh/year Annual cost 20 year cost Freezer volume (litres) Freezer + fridge volume (litres)
Indesit BIAA10 A+ £228 239 £33.46 £897 48 230
Indesit BIAA12SI A+ £251 274 £38.36 £1,018 90 272
Indesit BIAA 134 A+ £260 276 £38.64 £1,032 110 292
Zanussi ZRB38214WA A++ £449 297 £41.58 £1,280 92 357
Siemens KG36VVW30G A++ £489 227 £31.78 £1,125 94 309
Bosch KGN34VW30G A++ £539 244 £34.16 £1,222 105 304

The purchase price and energy consumption kWh/year are from the catalogue. I have translated the annual kWh into annual cost using 14p/kWh which is about what I pay now. The 20 year cost is the purchase price plus 20 times the annual cost. The blue highlights two appliances that are close enough in size to be comapred directly.

The higher cost of the efficient fridge freezers is partly to do with size. The three A++ cases were all 304 litres or more whereas the smallest A+ case was only 230 litres. Smaller appliances cost less to run. It looks as though if you only want a small fridge freezer then you can't get an efficient one. However, size isn't the complete answer. The largest of the Indesits was almost as big as the Bosch and still costs £190 less over 20 years, though it used 13% more energy.

It seems a bit odd that there is so little difference in energy consumption between those two. There is supposed to be approximately 33% saving between and A++ appliance and an A+ appliance. The energy rating calculations for fridge freezers are fairly complicated so I looked in more detail at chest freezers [2]. Again I found that the A++ ones were all more expensive, even over 20 years, than the cheapest A+ ones and there wasn't as much difference in energy consumption as you would expect between appliances of the same size. The reason seemed to be that all the A++ freezers were designated suitable for tropical zones - up to 43C whereas the others were only suitable for sub-tropical (up to 38C) or temperate (up to 32C). Tropical appliances are tested at 35C whereas all other cases are tested at 25C [3]. The tropical appliances get an extra factor on the rating calculation to allow for this so they can still be rated A++ but it means you would expect the actual annual consumption in the UK would be lower than in the tests and they will actually save more energy than the energy label suggests. However, subtropical appliances also get an allowance for the climate (though a bit smaller) even though they are tested at 25C, the same as the temperate climate cases. This means the subtropical appliances have a distinct advantage in the energy rating stakes.

The Global Action Plan report which triggered my investigations suggested that the reason the efficient appliances are more expensive is a lot to do with low volume of sales. If more people bought them then prices would come down. Back in 2002-2005 the equivalent of today's Energy Companies Obligation required energy companies to subsidise energy efficient appliances (whereas today they mainly subsidise insulation and new boilers). The take up of 'A' rated fridge freezers was double what it would have been without it and prices dropped.

In Germany, the average energy consumption of new appliances of all kinds decreased 9% between 2005 and 2010 whereas in the UK there was no improvement at all. In Spain there was 18% improvement, albeit from a very poor starting point. In various parts of Europe there are incentives such as tax credits, grants and subsidies to encourage take-up of energy efficient appliances [1].

Since I have only explored fridge-freezers and chest freezers for this post I can't say that there are no savings from energy efficiency for other types of appliance. However the cold appliances category is an important one because it covers 14% of household electricity consumption and 10% of peak load [4]. Reducing peak load consumption is critical to reduce the costs of generating and distributing electricity through the grid.

The Global Action plan report lists a variety of national policy advantages to reducing appliance energy use including:
  • Improving our balance of payments because more than half our energy comes from imported gas and coal
  • Increasing government revenues from VAT because energy is rated at 5% whereas if we spent the same money on other items (that aren't exempt) the government gets 20%.
As from July this year, the EU eco-design regulation prohibit the sale of new fridges and freezers that are worse than A+ [5]. However, we could do a lot better if there were a better range of A++ and A+++ appliances available at a reasonable price, especially in the smaller sizes. Also, it would be very helpful if the estimated energy consumption on the product label reflected energy use in the UK rather than in the tropics.

[1] Promoting highly efficient elecrical appliances (April 2014) Global Action plan
[2] Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 1060/2010 of 28 September 2010 supplementing Directive 2010/30/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council with regard to energy labelling of household refrigerating appliances Text with EEA relevance (Sep 2010) EUR Lex
[3] Test procedures, measurements and standards for refrigerators and freezers (Dec 2012)
[4] Household electricity survey (2014) DECC
[5] Regulations 643/2009 and 1060/2010: Domestic refrigerators and freezers (March 2011)


  1. As very few manufacturers (and vendors, eg John Lewis) guarantee appliances for longer than 5 years, maybe the life-cost calculations should be based on 5 years. Sadly I suspect the result will be that small energy savings of an efficient fridge will be swamped by the up-front-cost saving of a much cheaper, slightly less efficient one. And the 5-year energy usage will probably be swamped by the embodied energy of manufacture.

    Until appliances are either sold with realistically-long guarantees (10+ years) or leased as a service-per-year (as Xerox do/did for photocopiers) we'll have no incentive to buy energy-efficient ones, and many with minor defects will be scrapped with much unnecessary waste of materials and embodied energy.


    1. I totally agree, Niall. I like the rental solution best because it shifts the competition forces to reliability and running cost. Also it simplifies the end-of-life disposal problem because the firm which rents the equipment out owns the problem. Many people would find the steady payments easier on the cash flow too. I think the problem is the administration for the rental company - lots of small payments to keep track of.

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  3. While energy use for A+++ appliances may well be overestimated, so will the energy use for less efficient machines and this overestimate may well be more for the less efficient machines making any total spend saving even less.

    Are there figures for energy used in manufacture for the different machines? This figure would allow consumers to buy based on total energy budget for the machines over 5 years or however long they assume the machine will last. (Our last washing machine lasted around 20 Years)

  4. The published energy figures are a scam. There is no consistency for energy consumption (in kWh/yr) for the same freezer model across diferent vendors - and even within the same vendor using diferent marketing vehicles. This also applies to freezer capacity.

  5. Tips to make your fridge and freezer more energy efficient and save money -