White choice

Published in Green Magazine, Issue 17

Despite bigger houses and more electrical goods, Australia’s domestic energy use is expected to fall in relative terms. This is mostly due to more energy-efficient appliances and homes – primarily led by government ‘carrot-and-stick’ programs.

The Star Rating system helps shoppers choose the most energy efficient refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers, while Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) ban the sale of inefficient goods in Australia.

But there are still loopholes and even the ‘easy-to-read’ star ratings system needs to be approached with caution.

Also, underlying all the statistics is a common truth that the way a product is used, and how often it is replaced, often makes the biggest difference to your energy bill and footprint.

Star Ratings

Energy Rating Labels for all whitegoods became mandatory across Australia in 1992.

More stars means greater efficiency (to a maximum of six or 10) – but this only works when comparing models of the same size.

A larger machine may have more stars than a smaller model, but it will almost certainly use more electricity. So decide what size you need then choose the model with most stars.

Gas-powered appliances are not star rated.

MEPS

Introduced to domestic fridges and freezers in 1999, Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) were rolled out to light bulbs, televisions and set-top boxes in the past two years and will apply to computers from June 2011.

However a 2010 Federal Government report found the standards were being undermined by different interpretations of ‘supply and sell’ across state and territory laws.

Another loophole allows users to import directly from overseas; so long as the product is not on-sold in Australia, the regulations do not apply.

Total Life Cycle Assessment

Life Cycle Assessment looks at all the cradle-to-grave impacts a product has, from raw materials through processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, to disposal or recycling.

For whitegoods, the in-use phase dominates, says Tim Grant, director of Life Cycle Strategies Pty Ltd.

While white goods have a high level of embodied energy from their manufacture, he said: “there are reasonable recycling options so those materials can be reused”.

With few longevity statistics available, Choice magazine bases its recommendations on customer feedback on reliability.

Longevity statistics are hard to find, agrees Aleks Efeian, marketing and communication executive for Bosch and Seimens Home Appliances (BSH) – partly because “how a product is used will impact on its longevity so manufacturers are hesitant to release those details”.

Instead, he says “BSH aims to reduce our total energy use per tonne of product by 15% by 2013” and other manufacturers are setting similar targets.

Hot water and solar power

Most new washing machines are only plumbed to the cold tap because heating water internally, while using more energy, is more efficient than using water heated by electric systems.

But with more households now using solar power or having solar hot water systems, there is a push for manufacturers to include dual taps to access this ‘green’ resource.

Size matters

Size, sensors and smart electronics have all helped whitegoods become more efficient in their use of energy, water and, where relevant, detergent.

Generally machines with larger capacities are more efficient relative to smaller ones, but of course a single person using a family-sized freezer or washing machine is not be an efficient use of power.

Choice magazine also found some washing machines did not perform well when filled to their claimed capacity, indicating some manufacturers might exaggerate this to gain a higher efficiency rating.

Lower water use has had an unfortunate knock-on problem – detergent residue on clothes, although this happens less with liquid detergents.

No matter how efficient a machine is, if it’s only being run at half full, it will be half as efficient. However, many machines – especially washing machines and dryers – now have sensors and will reduce the cycle or water use depending on the size of a load. Dishwashers with dual drawers are a good option for small loads.

Some of the biggest energy savings have been in the field of fridges and freezers; the E3 Committee, which monitors MEPS and the Star Rating system, found that in 2003, 88% of refrigerators sold did not pass 2005 MEPS levels, while in 2009, only 0.3% models sold failed, and many of these were old stock.

But when buying a new fridge, the biggest favour you can do for the environment is to recycle your old one instead of using it for beer in the garage; the refrigerator is the single biggest power consumer in many households and about 30% of households own two. Nearly 60% of households own a separate freezer.

The star rating system has not served chest freezers well because they are rated on a different scale to upright freezers. As a result, many appear less efficient, while nearly all are inherently more efficient and cost less to run.

The next generation of dishwashers will reserve the rinse water and, if it’s clean enough, hold it for up to two days to reuse on the first rinse of the next wash.

“Our most efficient machine uses just 12.3 litres of water to do full load, compared to up to 75 litres used in hand washing,” BSH spokesman Aleks Efeian said.

However humans use less electricity.

And, while the best clothes dryers are rated at six stars (out of six), the greenest clothes dryer is still sunshine and a rack.

Further reading

Gadgets and Gigawatts: Policies for Energy Efficient Electronics, published by OECD/IEA, 2009

www.choice.com.au

www.energyrating.gov.au

TIPS

  • If you’re not keeping a fridge at least two thirds full or a freezer at least three quarters full, it’s probably too big for your needs.
  • Automatic ice-makers and through-the-door dispensers increase a fridge’s energy use and price.
  • Manual defrost models tend to use less energy than frost free models, but must be defrosted regularly to remain energy efficient.
  • If you have cheap off-peak power, run dishwashers or clothes dryers overnight.
  • Externally venting dryers may save energy, to avoid moist air being recirculated.
  • A ‘suds save’ option can save water and detergent if washing more than one load at a time.
  • Avoid placing a fridge or freezer where it will be in direct sun and allow plenty of air to flow around it.
  • Cool food before putting in the fridge.
  • Use a thermometer to check fridge and freezer temperature. Freezers should run at -15°C to -18°C while fridges 3°C to 4°C.
  • Keep fridge seals clean and don’t leave doors open.
  • To calculate the rough cost of running an appliance, multiply the energy consumption figure in Kilowatts by the rate you pay per kWh – approximately 18 cents.
  • For an estimate of an appliance’s emissions, each kWh equates to about 1kg of greenhouse gas.
  • Hot water entering the machine must be no hotter than 60°C, so Choice magazine recommends installing a tempering valve on solar hot water heaters if there isn’t a controller already fitted.

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Article by Jane Canaway

British-born, schooled in Holland and Wales, I worked my journalism cadetship in the Home Counties, escaped to London, then spent a couple of years travelling before settling in Melbourne, where I have written and edited for a range of publications, including Pacific Magazines [Your Garden, Home Beautiful, New Idea] and Fairfax Community Newspapers. Now a mother of two wonderful teenagers, I write about gardening, sustainability and people, when I can drag myself away from the vegie patch and my saxophone.
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