Monday, November 21, 2011

Big Gains Over Time in the Energy-Efficiency of Household Appliances Make Us Better Off

The chart above shows the dramatic gains in energy efficiency over the last 20 years for clothes washers and dishwashers, based on historical data from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.  In the 11-year period between 1993 and 2004, the energy efficiency of clothes washers doubled from 2.71 kWh/cycle to 1.22 kWh/cycle, and then doubled again in the six year period from 2004 to 2010 to 0.66 kWh/cycle.  The increase in energy efficiency for dishwashers has been less dramatic, but energy efficiency for dishwashers has roughly doubled since 1990, from 2.67 kWh/cycle to 1.37 kWh.  

Although not reported here, there have been similar efficiency gains in the amount of energy required to operate today's freezers, air conditioners, and refrigerators (energy efficiency has doubled since 1990).

We've heard a lot lately about how median household income has stagnated in recent years.  But I wonder if there are underlying trends like the significant increases in household appliance efficiency that lower the cost of operating our households, and thereby increase our standard of living, especially for lower and middle-income households, and offset some of the income stagnation.  That is, flat household income is not necessarily the same thing as a declining standard of living, if the energy costs of household operation (and the costs of food, clothing, appliances, furniture, electronics, etc.) are falling significantly. 

31 Comments:

At 11/21/2011 7:14 PM, Blogger Benjamin said...

I wonder also about such a simple thing as Craigslist. Before, transactions cost ate up the value of using the classified ads.

Now, classified ads are free--sheesh, I can buy all manner of goods at half-off or better on Craigslist.

That said, there is no rule that free enterprise and capitalism will lead to either a pyramid-shaped income and wealth distribution shape, or a diamond-shaped (big middle-class).

If we develop the pyramid in the USA, we may wish to ponder the long-term effects of that (such as ossification through political power, then a disgruntled populace voting in a Huge Chavez).

There is an age-old adage among men of wisdom: Leave something on the table for the other guy.

 
At 11/21/2011 7:18 PM, Blogger Hydra said...

Maybe, but other people claim that new innovations like instant on TV sets cost us more to run than our water heaters.

I don't think this thesis is cut and dried, especially after capital costs.

We could probably save more with a system where a new refrigerator door gasket did not cost a third what the fridge did.

 
At 11/21/2011 7:20 PM, Blogger West said...

Most of that dramatic improvement in clothes washers is due to the recent acceptance of affordable front-loaders. They use about 1/3 the water, so most of the energy saved is from not having to heat up 20 gallons of water.

Not that that is a problem, it's a feature. Also they don't beat up your clothes as much.

No, I don't work in that industry, just noticing.

 
At 11/21/2011 7:26 PM, Blogger Marko said...

But but, pigeons!

 
At 11/21/2011 7:59 PM, Blogger Aiken_Bob said...

It is a mixed bag and it is somewhat moot for the future. Remember when the efficiency standards started - around the 70's with the oil embargo. The whole goal was to keep the amount of electric down, damn the capital, repair and replacement cost. If we are going into a stage with much cheaper electric due to the natural gas I have a gut feel the desire is lower prices for the product and less efficiency.

 
At 11/21/2011 8:44 PM, Blogger Hydra said...

Theoretically, with enough energy and the right technology, we could bring the pigeons back.

 
At 11/21/2011 10:53 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

does this mean we use less energy overall or we use just as much?

 
At 11/21/2011 10:53 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 11/22/2011 12:52 AM, Blogger randian said...

Using less energy != more efficient.

Most of the gain in "efficiency" for clothes and dish washers is at the expense of utility: they just don't clean acceptably well. Just ask Consumer Reports.

If you've seen a new clothes washer lately, you will notice that most do not have hot rinse cycles anymore, and many don't even have hot wash cycles. The temperature they heat water to for "hot" is also likely lower. So yes, they use less energy, but some items, like towels, must be washed in quite hot water, and these units don't deliver.

 
At 11/22/2011 7:46 PM, Blogger Pulverized Concepts said...

Not only that, but government mandates that phosphorus be eliminated from laundry detergents have resulted in clean clothes that aren't so clean.

 
At 11/22/2011 7:50 PM, Blogger randian said...

You can buy trisodium phosphate or Trisodium Polyphosphate and add it to your wash yourself. They're pretty cheap.

 
At 11/22/2011 8:14 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

You can buy trisodium phosphate or Trisodium Polyphosphate and add it to your wash yourself. They're pretty cheap.

That is what I do. But it is very silly that regulations are making it harder to clean clothes, washes dishes as we used to.

 
At 11/22/2011 8:34 PM, Blogger randian said...

But it is very silly that regulations are making it harder to clean clothes, washes dishes as we used to.

I don't think the environmental movement cares about that. Since an ever improving standard of living repudiates their ideology, regulations must be put in place to reduce our standard of living, thus proving their thesis that improving our standard of living is "unsustainable". Besides, if you're willing to kill millions banning DDT making everybody wear dirty clothes is but a drop in the moral bucket.

Front loaders don't clean as well as toploaders (see Consumer Reports), and that gap is being whittled away with the trend towards not having a central agitator in toploaders. It uses less power without one, but again clothes aren't as clean because of the lack of agitation.

 
At 11/22/2011 8:45 PM, Blogger Hydra said...

Likewise the mandated energy saving toilets that sometimes require two flushes. In Canada and St Martin toilets have two buttons, for a big flush or a little one.

 
At 11/22/2011 8:48 PM, Blogger Hydra said...

Using energy more efficiently means that more energy is used.

Jevon's paradox.

 
At 11/22/2011 9:58 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

re: front loaders...clean worse

interesting...

most commercial laundries as well as laundromats typically use front loaders, no?

re: phosphorus

a significant pollutant... that cost big bucks to remove at the water treatment plant.....

phosphorous and nitrogen can and do cause serious degradation to waterways....

 
At 11/23/2011 6:49 AM, Blogger Hydra said...

I don't see any reason savings in energy use are linked to stagnation in household income. Just because some things are improving ( better products) does not mean we are better off if you don't have a job or the income to buy them with.

 
At 11/23/2011 6:52 AM, Blogger Hydra said...

What does that graph look like in real dollars pee use instead of kW per use? Considering higher energy prices, do we still come out ahead?

 
At 11/23/2011 8:42 AM, Blogger VangelV said...

I don't see any reason savings in energy use are linked to stagnation in household income. Just because some things are improving ( better products) does not mean we are better off if you don't have a job or the income to buy them with.

But the products are not better. It is harder to get clean dishes or clothes with the newer washers. Toilet tanks are too small. Shower heads do not permit enough water to flow through them. Water heaters are set too low and allow germs to survive when exposed to the set temperatures. This is to be expected when standards are artificially set by government bureaucrats rather than by consumer demand.

 
At 11/23/2011 9:18 AM, Blogger AER said...

The statistics from the AHAM are flawed in numerous ways. First, they do not take into account the increased cost for the appliances. The manufacturers are very happy to claim energy efficiency because it allows them to increase the prices dramatically. Second, all that has happened with most of the appliances is that they have reduced the power - there is little magic in this. Most appliances do not work as well at their job since becoming energy efficient. According to Consumer Reports, dishwashers, washing machines and dryers all perform far worse than they used to because they simply do not clean.

 
At 11/23/2011 9:22 AM, Blogger AER said...

The statistics presented by the AHAM are flawed in several ways. First, they do not include the significantly higher cost of the energy efficient products. Manufacturers are happy to sell energy efficient models because they dramatically increase the prices. Since the energy efficiency has been mandated, there is no alternative for the consumer. Second, according to Consumer Reports, most of these products, specifically dishwashers, washers and dryers, do not clean as well. All that manufacturers have done to make them energy efficient is to reduce their power, the result being they do not clean as well as they used to.

 
At 11/23/2011 9:58 AM, Blogger Larry G said...

there's been several mentions here of the efficiency of front loaders and opinions form Consumer Reports.

Being a member.. I went to their website and found this:

" Front-loading washers

Front-loading washers
These also fill only partly with water. They clean clothes by lifting them to the top of the tub and dropping them back into the water, and work best with low-foaming, high-efficiency detergent.

Pros:The best front-loaders clean better and more efficiently than the best high-efficiency top-loaders, without necessarily costing more"

and what they said about high-efficiency top-loaders was this:

" Pros:Some high-efficiency top-loaders hold more laundry than regular top-loaders (up to 20 pounds or more) and they typically wash better. The higher spin speed reduces drying time--and, thus, energy consumption--by extracting more water before clothes go into the dryer.
Cons:The high-speed spin can tangle and wrinkle clothing. And while prices have dropped, these still cost notably more than regular top-loaders and can cost as much as front-loading machines."

my reading of what CR says leads me to believe that the top rated front-loaders are the most energy efficient as well as the best as cleaning....

I looked through CR to see if I could find info saying that front-loaders were inferior and I could find none... so if someone has other info to the contrary, please share.

 
At 11/23/2011 10:19 AM, Blogger VangelV said...

Washing machines have become more efficient in the last 10 years. But some new washing machines are having a tough time meeting updated federal energy rules without sacrificing cleaning. Consumer Reports' latest tests found huge performance differences among washing machines. Fortunately, our tests also revealed washing machines that are capable and efficient.

There clearly is a big problem because many of the machine models made by formerly great manufacturers are having trouble.

Let us note that part of the problem could simply be due to water heaters being set too low, again for efficiency reasons.

 
At 11/23/2011 11:58 AM, Blogger randian said...

The manufacturers are very happy to claim energy efficiency because it allows them to increase the prices dramatically.

Which means that, in most (all?) cases the increased capital cost has eliminated any benefit of the decreased operating cost. I'm paying more for an appliance that does less. Hardly the direction appliances would have run were their design determined by market forces and not government fiat.

 
At 11/23/2011 12:02 PM, Blogger randian said...

my reading of what CR says leads me to believe that the top rated front-loaders are the most energy efficient as well as the best as cleaning....

Have you seen their prices? The best front loaders are indeed very good, but they are also very expensive. A good-cleaning top loader is much less expensive.

 
At 11/23/2011 12:59 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

CR did find huge differences indeed.

moral of the story - be an informed consumer...

 
At 11/23/2011 3:11 PM, Blogger Hydra said...

But the products are not better. It is harder to get clean dishes or clothes with the newer washers. Toilet tanks are too small. Shower heads do not permit enough water to flow through them.

=========================

We agree (although SOME products are much better today).

But I still don't see any connection between income stagnation and energy use.

 
At 11/23/2011 3:21 PM, Blogger randian said...

Shower heads do not permit enough water to flow through them

Some brands have removable flow restrictors. It is only illegal to sell an unrestricted shower head. It is not illegal to modify it. That's what I did for the unit I installed in my apartment.

 
At 11/23/2011 10:27 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

even if you live in a home that is on your own well.. you're still "restricted"?

;-)

 
At 11/24/2011 10:34 AM, Blogger VangelV said...

We agree (although SOME products are much better today).

But I still don't see any connection between income stagnation and energy use.


When incomes stagnate people will use less energy. When energy is more expensive income will not grow as quickly. Our standard of living is based on access to cheap and reliable energy.

 
At 11/24/2011 10:36 AM, Blogger VangelV said...

Some brands have removable flow restrictors. It is only illegal to sell an unrestricted shower head. It is not illegal to modify it. That's what I did for the unit I installed in my apartment.

There are contractors who will install illegal toilets that actually work, will set water heater temperatures to levels that kill bacteria, and will provide the fixtures that people want no matter what the regulators say.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home