Funding and Participation

Total funding from 1978 through 1981 for refrigerator compressor R&D was $0.83 million, in current year dollars. Converting this to 1999 dollars with the implicit price deflator yields a total of $1.56 million (Table E-1). The research was cost-shared with industry through a competitive solicitation. The winning contractor, Columbus Products Company (CPC), contributed $0.276 million in direct costs over the course of the program (the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy could not provide the year-by-year data), or $0.55 million in 1999 dollars. However, the successful deployment of the technology in the marketplace required substantial outlays by CPC and other companies in the refrigerator industry.


Figure E-1 presents one of the last half-century’s more remarkable technological achievements in the energy field: a reduction of more than two-thirds in the average electricity consumption of refrigerators over about 25 years, even as average unit sizes increased, performance improved, and ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons were removed. In the commercial sector, DOE-funded improvements in supermarket refrigeration systems fundamentally transformed that marketplace: “Without DOE’s financial and technical assistance, it is unlikely that the companies would have actively pursued what were then perceived as high-risk, uncertain technologies” (Geller and McGaraghan, 1998).

These outcomes reflect sustained industry and government cooperation, based on the integration of R&D, incentives for customers to purchase efficient models, and government efficiency standards at both state and federal levels. While many institutions were involved, DOE was an early and effective leader, starting with its 1977 launch of a program of appliance product development. DOE’s initial investment of some $772,000 helped demonstrate the feasibil

TABLE E-1 Funding for Advanced Refrigerator-Freezer Compressors


DOE Cost

Fiscal Year

(thousands of current year dollars)

(thousands of 1999 dollars)

















SOURCE: Office of Energy Efficiency. 2000a. OEE Letter response to questions from the Committee on Benefits of DOE R&D in Energy Efficiency and Fossil Energy: Advanced Refrigerator/Freezer Compressor Program. December 12.

ity of a full-featured refrigerator using 60 percent less electricity than comparable conventional units and produced new computer tools for analyzing the energy-use implications of refrigerator design options. DOE R&D funds and partnerships also “played a key role” in allowing industry to phase out CFCs without an energy penalty (Geller and Thorne, 1999).

These successes strongly influenced the enactment of increasingly demanding efficiency standards, first in California and ultimately by DOE itself, under authority of the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act of 1987. A reinforcing cycle began that continues to this day, under which targeted federal R&D helps make possible the introduction of increasingly efficient new refrigerator models, which themselves become the basis for tightening the minimum efficiency standards (based on their demonstration that meeting a tighter standard is technologically feasible).

Benefits and Costs
Improvements from R&D in Refrigerator-Freezer Compressors

In the late 1970s and early 1980s one of the DOE laboratories, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), began to work on improving the efficiency of major residential and commercial appliances. The refrigerator was one of these. ORNL subcontracted a major manufacturer of compressors to investigate how to improve the efficiency of these machines. By implementing a series of low-cost measures, compressor efficiency was improved from 3.6 Btu/Wh in 1980, to 4.2 Btu/Wh in 1981 and to 5.4 Btu/Wh in 1989. The manufacturer’s cost per compressor was estimated by ORNL to be in the range of $3 to $8 per unit. In the commercial market, this could have been as high as $15 to $40 per compressor (Baxter, 2001). ORNL provided technical support for various models of refrigerators to help manufacturers estimate the impacts of technical improvements (including the compressor). This R&D eventually included work to determine the impacts of HCFC substitutes and investigated how to reduce the performance degradation penalty to about zero.

To estimate the benefits from compressor improvement, the committee sent a data request to DOE and received in response a spreadsheet analysis of the energy savings and net energy cost savings to consumers due to the purchase of more efficient refrigerators. In this analysis, DOE used the sales-weighted average annual energy use of refrigerators sold by year over the period 1981 to 1990. It was further assumed that the sales-weighted annual energy use per unit sold in 1979 should be used as a base number from which to calculate the impact of improved compressors. In 1979, the energy use was 1365 kWh/year, and by 1990 it had decreased to 916 kWh/year, or about 33 percent improvement. It was estimated that one-half of the reduction in the use of energy

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