Combating Climate Change: Green Refrigeration


China’s new energy efficient refrigeration label, symbolising a profound shift in national energy standards and attitudes towards energy conservation.

When is a sticker not just a sticker? When it represents one of the most significant domestic energy reforms in Chinese history. The innocuous looking energy efficiency sticker, which now appears on all refrigerators sold in China, has come to represent an entirely new set of national energy efficiency standards that have helped to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and change the way Chinese households think about energy use.

In 1999, UNDP noted that refrigeration had become the largest single end-use of electricity by Chinese households. At the same time, China was producing around 30% of the world’s refrigerators, with annual sales exceeding 20 million units in domestic markets alone. Yet Chinese refrigerators were also known to consume almost twice the energy of those produced in the European Union, United States or Japan.

Highlights

  • At the same time, China was producing around 30% of the world’s refrigerators, with annual sales exceeding 20 million units in domestic markets alone. Yet Chinese refrigerators were also known to consume almost twice the energy of those produced in the European Union, United States or Japan.
  • There are currently 256 models of domestically manufactured energy-efficient refrigerators on the market today that meet the energy efficiency requirement of grade 1 of the national standard for refrigerator energy consumption (superior to European grade A). By 2005, 11 million tonnes of CO2 emissions had been saved and by 2010 that figure soared to 42 million tonnes.

To address this issue, UNDP teamed up with the National Development Reform Commission and the Ministry of Environmental Protection in 2001 to find a way to make Chinese refrigerators more energy efficient. In order to do so, however, the foundations of a completely new market would need to be laid. Since China had few energy efficiency standards at that time, existing standards would have to be revised in a way that was technically feasible, commercially viable and in line with international standards. The private sector would need to be convinced that switching production to more expensive energy efficient refrigerator models would be profitable for them to invest in, since they would need to transform their entire supply chain. Meanwhile, retailers would also need to be persuaded to sell more expensive refrigerators and consumers would need to be introduced to and understand the long term benefits of a higher initial purchase price.

With this in mind, UNDP’s first task was to assist the National Development and Reform Committee and the Ministry of Environmental Protection establish a National Energy Efficiency Standard that would demonstrate the importance and value of a new refrigerator market. With a limited definition of energy standards, existing regulations from Europe were used as a yardstick for gauging what might be an appropriate measurement for energy usage in China. In 2001 and 2003, revisions were made to the country’s previous Refrigerator Energy Efficiency Standard, first introduced in 1989. This included plans to reduce energy usage by twenty-five percent by 2007, based on figures taken at the start of the project in 1999.

The project then began targeting manufacturers by selecting 16 major refrigerator companies and 10 compressor companies. To help these companies understand what the switchover would entail, UNDP and the National Development and Reform Commission organised domestic and overseas training aimed at introducing engineers to international technology options, computer design modelling, energy efficiency measures and expert technical assistance. Participating refrigerator manufacturers were then entered into a competition in which they received a modest monetary incentive (ranging from US$60,000 to US$120,000) to design and produce energy efficient refrigerators. The company that could produce and sell the product that saved the greatest total energy over a 12-month period received a US$1 million prize.

The winner was Kelon, who produced and sold 442,000 units during the first six months of the contest and one million units within the first year. Its refrigerator turned out to be 67% more efficient than the prevailing norm and went on to achieve the distinction of being one of the most energy efficient refrigerators in the world. A similar competition was held for compressor manufacturers, as a vital component in determining how much energy a refrigerator uses.

The project simultaneously worked to demonstrate to retailers that there was a profit to be made and to build public preferences for energy efficient refrigerators. In late 2003, 57 nationwide electronics and appliance retailers were selected to participate in this programme. These companies were sensitised to the links between energy efficient appliances, environmental impacts and the implications for electricity bill savings for consumers. New refrigerator efficiency standards and labels were explained to staff, who also received sales and marketing training on how to persuade consumers to purchase these new products.

To ensure that both sales staff and customers fully understood and appreciated the long-term lifecycle savings offered by the new refrigerators, UNDP partnered with the China Household Electric Appliance Association to hold public awareness campaigns in 2002. Through a Mass Purchasing Programme which included promotional videos, media releases, radio broadcasts and energy-efficiency slogans, many customers were exposed to the environmental impact of their own energy use patterns for the first time, as well as the potential for energy efficient appliances to translate into energy bill savings. Prize draws were introduced in participating stores and over 35,000 top-rated energy efficient refrigerators were sold during these trials.

Assisting in the coordination of this project, UNDP helped to bring all three strands of work together – national standard setting, the transformation of production processes, and retailer and customers markets. The results speak for themselves. There are currently 256 models of domestically manufactured energy-efficient refrigerators on the market today that meet the energy efficiency requirement of grade 1 of the national standard for refrigerator energy consumption (superior to European grade A). By 2005, 11 million tonnes of CO2 emissions had been saved and by 2010 that figure soared to 42 million tonnes. That is equivalent to about ten 600 Megawatt coal-fired power plants – all thanks to a small, inconspicuous looking sticker on the upper corner of your refrigerator.