Refrigeration In China: energy efficiency with global impact

December 06, 1999

BERKELEY, CA -- China's refrigerator industry is the largest in the world. As such, it contributes a significant share of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the environment.

Now, an internationally funded, award-winning project to improve the energy efficiency of Chinese refrigerators, developed by the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has received a green light from the government of China and international funders, and is set to start in early December.

The five-year program -- the CFC-Free Energy-Efficient Refrigerator Project -- consists of a series of market-oriented measures for manufacturers and consumers to encourage the production and consumption of CFC-free energy-efficient refrigerators. It is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from China by a total of over 100 million tons of carbon dioxide from 20 million households over the 15-year lifetime of the new refrigerators. Also, because 80 percent of China's electricity is generated by coal-burning plants, the benefits of the project will include avoided emissions of other air pollutants.

"Refrigerator production in China jumped from 1.4 million units in 1985 to 10.6 million in 1998," according to David Fridley, a researcher in Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division, and manager of the refrigerator project. "In 1985, only 7 percent of urban households had refrigerators. By 1998, 76 percent had them, a 21 percent annual growth rate. The average Chinese refrigerator uses 2.5 kilowatt-hours per liter of volume per year, compared to 1.5 kWh/l for European refrigerators."

The Global Environmental Facility, through the United Nations Development Program, has decided to fund $9.3 million of the $40 million program to help the government of China transform its market for refrigerators.

Berkeley Lab has been involved in the project since 1995 through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), developing the market transformation program based on the success of the first phase of the project, which involved designing and testing CFC-free, energy-efficient refrigerators. Fridley says that beyond his technical supervisory role, the Laboratory will be involved in training and working with the State Bureau of Technical Supervision as the new efficiency standards are developed.

"Market transformation," Fridley explains, "is the process of shifting consumer demand for a product, in this case to a more energy-efficient, environmentally benign product through voluntary, market-based means such as technical assistance and training for manufacturers, consumer education, and financial incentives to manufacture and sell the more efficient product."

Berkeley Lab has worked directly with cooperating U.S. and international agencies such as the U.S. EPA, the United Nations Development Program, the China State Environmental Protection Administration and the former China National Council for Light Industry to determine a comprehensive set of measures based on economic, policy, and technical analysis.

"Collectively, we developed a technical training program for Chinese refrigerator manufacturers interested in developing CFC-free, efficient refrigerators; a financial incentive program to motivate manufacturers to build the most efficient refrigerator possible; a dealer incentive program to convince dealers to stock the new refrigerators; and a mass purchasing program for Chinese government agencies that acquire refrigerators in -bulk," Fridley says.

Other new project activities will include a recycling buy-back pilot program, revision of existing refrigerator efficiency standards, an energy-efficiency labeling system, and an extensive nationwide consumer education campaign.

In 1998, the refrigerator project was awarded an International Climate Protection Award by the EPA.

"It is not widely known in the United States, but China has had an energy-efficiency policy in place since the early 1980s," says Mark Levine, Environmental Energy Technologies Division Director and an advisor to the Chinese government on energy efficiency. "The government of China is committed to using energy more efficiently, and this has allowed the economy to grow at nearly twice the rate of energy consumption.

"One effect of the increasing affluence in China is that refrigerators are growing in size and consuming more energy," adds Levine. "The Energy-Efficient Refrigerator Project will have a significant, direct effect on reducing greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions. We at Berkeley Lab are grateful to have the chance to work with the people and government of China on this project, as well as on our other projects in energy data analysis, appliance efficiency standards, and technical advice on cogeneration plants."

The refrigerator project began in 1989 when the EPA signed an agreement with the government of China to assist in the elimination of CFCs from refrigerators. Under the Montreal Protocol, most nations of the world agreed to phase out the use of CFCs to protect the Earth's ozone layer. The success of the design phase of the project, in which a prototype model of 40 percent greater efficiency was produced and tested, led to eventual multilateral support for the new phase.

Major Chinese participants in the project have included the China State Environmental Protection Administration, the State Administration for Light Industry, the Household Electric Appliance Research Institute, and domestic refrigerator manufacturers. Major U.S. participants have included the EPA, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Energy Engineering, Underwriters Laboratories, and Berkeley Lab.

Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified research and is managed by the University of California.

DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

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