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Gas vs electric savings?

What a fricken joke. New refrigerators for example can use as little as $35 of energy per year. Meanwhile, folks pay $200-$400 for their A/C bill per month!

That's why I'm turning off our A/C this summer and walking around with a giant bag of ice in my pants.

Gas Stoves, Dishwashers and Dryers—the Growing Energy Battle Over Appliances

Manufacturers say energy-saving efforts are pushing the limits of physics; others say pressure spurs innovation

By John Keilman, WSJ

Feb. 11, 2024 5:30 am ET

When Jessica Romer pulls clothes out of her new washer-dryer, they feel cool and a bit damp but dry to the touch within seconds.

Using no electric heating element or natural gas, the unit’s dryer employs a pump to draw in ambient heat from its surroundings, making it 50% more energy efficient than traditional models—though without producing that warm, toasty feel.

“It’s different and strange,” said Romer, who lives in northern Florida, “but it does work.”

Whether Romer’s heat-pump dryer represents the pinnacle of energy efficiency or just the latest stop on a long climb is part of a debate in Washington. The Energy Department requires appliance makers to meet efficiency standards that are periodically reviewed and tightened—a rule that sparked the recent tussle over gas stoves.

“The reality of the laws of physics that require some amount of energy and water for home appliances to keep food cold and to clean and dry clothes and dishes has to be recognized,” Kevin Messner, chief policy officer of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, told a congressional hearing last year.

Andrew deLaski of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, which advocates for greater energy efficiency, said government pressure is necessary to keep the breakthroughs coming.

When a new standard goes into effect, manufacturers and their engineering teams have an incentive to develop a higher level of efficiency because there will be a market demand for it, according to deLaski.

For decades, home appliances weren’t subject to federal efficiency rules. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan signed the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act, which established minimum standards. The Energy Department is obligated to revisit them periodically, with new proposals coming six years after the previous rules are completed.

The agency recently tightened the rules for refrigerators and stoves based on agreements reached between the appliance industry and environmental and consumer groups. Standards for dishwashers, washing machines, clothes dryers and beverage coolers are expected to be completed by mid-2024.

New rules for all of the products should go into effect over the next three to six years. The Appliance Standards Awareness Project said they would cut the average household’s annual utility bills by $120 and, over three decades, keep 270 million metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere—equivalent to the annual energy use of 34 million homes.

As the standards have grown more demanding, the industry has kept pace through technical advances. Those include new compressors in refrigerators, which are better at keeping a consistent temperature, and more sophisticated termination controls that stop clothes dryers when the job is done. Dishwashers have better motors and pumps and now need only 3.5 gallons of water per load, which means water heaters don’t need to use as much energy to warm the spray.

Whirlpool has developed an insulation for refrigerators that uses vacuum-sealed powder in place of polyurethane foam. The company said that allows the fridge’s interior walls to be thinner, expanding capacity by 25% or, if made at the usual thickness, to be far more efficient than traditional models.

Whirlpool’s head of sustainability, Pamela Klyn, said other appliances are approaching their efficiency limits. Reducing the electricity consumption of a contemporary microwave oven, for instance, would mean removing its clock, she said.

Paul Storch, whose Bronx, N.Y., company Felix Storch Inc. imports and manufactures niche appliances, said the new regulations mean the small refrigerators he sells for cramped apartments will need updated compressors, which could raise prices by as much as 10%—roughly $50 to $100.

A GE Profile UltraFast Combo washer-dryer touts smarter laundry.

“Is the higher cost recovered through the savings in energy?” he said. “That’s the litmus test about whether these are logical.”

Energy Department calculations show that shoppers can expect a modest return once the updated standards are in place. Those who buy a standard-size refrigerator could be $51 to $143 ahead at the end of its expected 14.5-year lifespan once the higher price is offset by lower energy bills.

The appliance manufacturers’ association said it supports the federal efficiency standards but is lobbying Congress to change the “six-year time clock.” New standards should be imposed only when technology and consumer benefits justify them, according to the group.

Others are going further. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based group that advocates against what it calls excessive regulation, contends dishwashers have overly long cycle times because of energy and water restrictions. It is seeking a change to permit models that would run faster by being exempt from those rules.

The Energy Department declined to comment. The appliance association opposes the proposed change, saying manufacturers don’t want to make a new class of dishwasher.

Rep. Debbie Lesko (R., Ariz.) in November introduced the Hands Off Our Home Appliances Act, which she said would prevent the Energy Department from mandating changes that aren’t cost-effective. The Appliance Standards Awareness Project said regulators already must take that into account.

Some advances don’t pan out. GE Appliances, owned by China-based Haier Group, researched an ultrasonic clothes dryer that vibrated at such a high frequency that the water turned to mist. After concluding it wouldn’t be effective for large loads, the company developed a single-unit laundry machine called the UltraFast Combo that uses an enhanced version of the heat pumps common in other countries.

Kevan Kay bought one last year while converting an upstairs closet into a laundry room, seeking something that could be plugged into a standard electrical outlet and didn’t require a vent.

Kay, a tech-company owner who lives in Green Bay, Wis., said the Combo uses far less energy than his old units to wash and dry his clothes, and though his items end the cycle feeling slightly damp, that quickly dissipates. GE Appliances attributes the sensation to the humidity within the machine, and to consumers being accustomed to clothes coming out warm.

Shanika Whitehurst, associate director of product sustainability at Consumer Reports, said the group’s testing has found that better efficiency generally correlates with better performance and reliability. Yet many people aren’t happy with the appliances.

The Energy Department’s rule-making process drew scores of public complaints, with some saying energy-efficient models are too expensive, don’t work well and sometimes break easily. Some commenters sarcastically suggested going back to washing clothes in a creek and drying them on clotheslines.

Laurie Chauncy, of Sierra Vista, Ariz., has been disappointed with the washing machine and dishwasher she bought to replace 25-year-old models, saying both require extra water use to work properly.

“I’d like to avoid energy-efficiency appliances in the future,” she said.

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