Sunday, March 9, 2008

Honey, I shrank the fridge...

A couple of weeks ago, our old fridge died after twelve years of service. When we bought it, it was ranked as highly energy efficient but still used 770 kWh annually "when tested according to Australian standards".

I have a suspicion that it may have been using more over recent times as the thermostat had been playing up for a while, making it increasingly hard to maintain the optimum temperature. We initially thought about getting it fixed, but in most cases, repairing an old fridge is actually a less environmentally friendly option than replacing it with a newer, more energy efficient one.

So we decided it was time for a new fridge in the kitchen.

People may wonder whether it really matters all that much whether their fridge at home is energy efficient or not. It may come as a surprise but household energy use does play a significant part in over-all greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the Australian energy efficiency website, "With 7 million households in 2001 and a good standard of living, Australia's residential energy consumption is a significant proportion of the national total (around 40%). A large proportion of our household energy needs are met with electricity, which on mainland Australia is generated with fossil fuels. This means significant greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to the residential sector. [...] While appliances only account for about 30% of total energy consumption, they account for 53% of residential greenhouse emissions, excluding space heating and cooling (air conditioners) and hot water requirements for appliances."

Energy efficiency of white goods has significantly improved since the mid-1990s. This improvement is in a large part due to government regulation to improve minimum energy performance standards for appliances (known as "MEPS" in Australia), and energy rating programs, such as the "Energy Star" in the US and the "Energy Rating label" program in Australia. These allow consumers to make an educated choice of consumer products based on their comparative energy efficiency.

In fact, energy efficiency of fridges and freezers has improved so much, that in the US, "ENERGY STAR qualified refrigerators require about half as much energy as models manufactured before 1993." ( see US Energy Star website for more information).

In Australia, the energy rating label has proven so successful that the Australian Government revised their energy rating system in 2000. According to the Australian energy rating website "Energy efficiency is now measured against a tougher standard. This change encourages improved technology and more efficient products, which will save consumers money and help reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions." As a result, newer fridges with less stars under the new Australian system may be more energy efficient than fridges with more stars under the old Australian system.

It is great to see the energy efficiency success story for household goods.

Unfortunately, energy efficiency improvements on their own do not necessarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Some people feel it is a shame to throw out an old but functioning fridge and keep their old one going in the shed to cool their beer, resulting in an overall increase of that household's energy needs. Also, at the same time as we have improved the energy efficiency of our fridges, the size of typical household fridges seems to have increased, thus wiping out some of the energy savings achieved through the energy efficiency program, a phenomenon known as the "rebound effect". This is one of the areas where consumers could really make a big difference.

It always surprises me when I visit other households and see the bulging fridges in their kitchens. It seems as if the obesity crisis in the Western world does not stop with people, it has engulfed fridges, too! I sometimes wonder whether the size of the fridge has now become some sort of status symbol. Or maybe people don't realise that the stars on the energy label translate to real dollars that have to be spent year after year to run the appliance (more stars means cheaper to run). I like the way India is dealing with this issue. According to the Hindu Business Line, the Indian Bureau of Energy Efficiency adopted the Australian/New Zealand standards for testing frost free refrigerators and introduced an energy efficiency label scheme similar to the Australian one, with one interesting difference: It also shows a hand holding a fistful of rupees, representing the ongoing cost to consumers for running the appliance.

So when it was time for us to choose a new kitchen fridge we decided to buck the trend. Our new fridge is half the size of our old one, roughly the size of a bar fridge. It uses around 290 kWh annually, that is approximately 38 per cent of the energy requirements listed on the label of our old fridge. Thanks to the many changes I have put in place over the last two years, this is actually plenty of fridge space for our family of five. Here are some of the ways we have reduced the amount of fridge space we need:

I used to go shopping once a fortnight at a supermarket in the next bigger town and cart home kilos of vegetables and fruit plus many litres of milk and yoghurt. This helped to cut down on petrol costs but meant that most of the food I had bought would have to be stored in the fridge. Now, all our vegetables either come straight from the garden or have been canned by me for later consumption.

Any left-overs from dinner get used the next day for lunch, so there is never more than one small container of left-overs in the fridge. Unfortunately for the busy family cook (I actually like left-overs, it saves on having to cook!), this does not happen all that often in our family.

As my fruit trees are still rather small, I buy fruit once a week from our village greengrocer who sells direct from local farms. The fruit tends to be fresher than the supermarket fare which has often been in cold storage for many months. Most of the fruit sits in a fruit bowl as it gets eaten quickly enough not to go off. I hope that in years to come, we can simply eat the fruit off the trees.

We are using powdered milk which I mix up as needed. See this link on my thoughts on powdered milk.

I make fresh yoghurt on an as need basis in a small yoghurt maker (which needs no electricity) so I only have one small container of yoghurt in the fridge.

We drink water from the tap instead of juices or soft drinks. This is healthier and needs no storage.

We make our own bread daily fresh, so there is usually only one loaf that needs storing in the fridge.

Which leaves plenty of space for some cheese, some margarine and butter, a loaf of bread, a couple of open jam jars, a bottle of home-made tomato sauce and the odd open jar of pickles or relishes. We eat well and nobody goes hungry. What else do you need?


  1. I have another suggestion. Soy milk. You can keep it in the cupboard until you open it. I have been reading about hormones in milk, not just the added hormones but the 59 naturally occuring hormones. I have read of many health issues related to cows milk, since we are the only animals who consume milk after infancy and we have a very powerful dairy industry/lobby I thought I'd read more. Both Doug and I are now convinced that we need to cease drinking cows milk, decrease other dairy product consumption (yougurt made with Soy) and make the switch to soy. We told the children, they drank the soy, had it on their cereal and have decided they love it and the change happened litterally overnight. Of course we have a daughter and we are concerned about the hormone effect upon her but I think it is important for the boys too. I have also discussed it with some one who had suffered headaches for years, started a non dairy diet and went years without a headache. I have headaches too, suffer a little from my own hormonal issues and have a family history of hormonal cancers so I feel that we need to make this change. I'd be interested to hear your thought. Cheer Jxx

  2. Everyone is encouraged to buy new energy efficient refrigerators in North America and they do. The problem is they put the old one in the basement and run it as well.

    Luckily we have hydro-electric power here but still......

  3. Yes, I have thought about the whole dairy issue. But I actually really dislike soy milk, and I suspect the health benefits are also not all that they crack up to be.

    I am allergic to soy beans (as in bean sprouts), and I often wonder (but have not seen any research on this) whether the huge amount of soy products (soy lecithin, for example, is used in a large variety of processed food) has anything to do with the increasing number of food allergies.

    I also wonder whether the popularity of soy in the US has something to do with the massive soy industry there. It has always struck me as odd that in Europe the idea that milk is bad for you is fairly uncommon, whereas in Australia and the US, there almost seems to be a milk-phobia.

    Virtually all soy in the US (which is also a major exporter of soy to the rest of the world) is genetically modified. I have a huge problem with the GM industry and the way they operate.

    Also, from what I have read, soy is recommended for women suffering from menopausal symptoms because it is so similar to female hormones, so if hormones are an issue, switching to soy may not be the ideal solution for boys.

    And unless you get calcium-fortified soy drinks, you don't get the calcium you need.

    Having said all that, there may be some very serious issues with milk which relate to a mutation in some cows which has changed the the beta-casein structure in milk from "A2" beta-casein to "A1" beta-casein, which is an opiate. Some countries are more affected than others.

    According to New Zealand scientist Keith Woodford, many Western countries including the US have a large proportion of the "bad" A1-cows, whereas other countries such as Kenia, Tibet or the Island of Guernsey, have mostly A2 cows. The health implications could be huge, if Woodford, who has recently written a book about it, is correct.

    Woodford advocates breeding up A2 dairy stock to address this issue.

    A recent interview with Woodford can be found at