Pushing manufacturers and consumers toward more environmentally friendly appliances is commonly seen as a win-win situation, consumers save money on their energy bills and the UK is able to meet its energy targets. However, has what seems like large shifts in energy efficiency awareness and purchasing actually had a meaningful impact on the UK’s energy use?
Certainly the introduction of the EU labelling scheme, redesigned in 2010, has made consumers more environmentally conscious when making purchasing decisions, by making energy consumption figures an obvious part of the buying process manufacturers have had to focus efforts on cutting energy consumption of their products. This shift into making energy consumption figures part of the selling process has led to innovations within each product sector. The majority of manufacturers have now fully embraced the energy efficiency push and are producing models which are more energy efficient than ever. Official figures show that the introduction of energy ratings has resulted in the market for home appliances shifting toward more energy efficient models. The issue however is that energy consumption figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change show that there hasn’t been a significant reduction in energy use since 1990, in fact in 2009 we used more energy in our homes than we did in 1996. Why is this?
One reason is about the numbers, or more specifically the number of appliances in use, the appliances we are buying are becoming more efficient but we’re using more of them than before, both effects cancelling each other out. The increase in consumer electronics highlights the meteoric rise in prominence that electronics have experienced within our lives. In 2000 just 9,180,000 set top boxes were in use in the UK, by 2011 that figure had risen to 33,952,000, the decade before 2000 had seen the number rise by only 8,000,000 units. Our life has become increasing dominated by electronics, a ‘technology’ world has meant the work a TV once did has been superseded by smart devices which can access hundreds of digital channels, connect to on-demand services and record thousands of programmes on in-built storage. As these technologies have progressed they’ve become more affordable and now more households than ever find it within their budget to have a TV, set top box and speaker system for the simple act of watching television. As TV’s have become cheaper they’ve also become bigger, the previous generation technology limited the size of screens because of bulkiness but now TV’s over 40″ are becoming the norm, couple this with more aggressive update cycles, technology now becomes outdated sooner than ever before, and it’s easy to see why we have more appliances than ever. This can be seen in other sectors of the appliance industry, innovations in product sectors is a direct result of consumer demand and means the ‘latest’ appliance is soon superseded by more efficient technology. This change has given us access to less demanding and we are able to spend less time on chores than ever before, we benefit form technology which wouldn’t have been dreamt of 20 years ago, however this great change has also made us bigger consumers of electronics than before.
This increase in appliances can also be linked to the fall in household sizes, in 2001 28.6% of household were just one person, by 2011 this had grown to 29.4%. Every household requires appliances and hence every the number of appliances needed has risen to service the growing need for appliances in every household. This trend is only likely to continue in the near future and hence we can expect to see increases in the number of appliances required also occur.
The data may seem to point toward a failure of the energy labelling system and energy efficiency changes within the industry but it’s more complex than that, the changes in our consumption habits and the structure of society have taken place at a quicker rate than the speed of development within the industry, in fact the work toward energy efficiency can be considered a resounding success when looking at how quickly energy efficient appliances have been adopted. In 2009 the total stock of A++ fridge freezers was just 6,000, by 2011 this had risen to 43,000, the changes in the market have shown the effect of putting the energy consumption figures at the forefront of the purchasing decision.
The effect on energy consumption in appliances is clear, chest freezers have seen their average energy use fall by 65% since 1990 and that trend continues for the majority of the appliance sector, one notable exception being tumble dryers which, on average have actually increased their energy use. Choosing to purchase the most energy efficient appliance has never been more important, we continue to move toward a substantial shift in ownership and household trends and unless changes occur soon to reverse these trends the importance of choosing energy efficient appliances cannot be overstated.
The kitchen is a large consumer of electricity, the sheer number of appliances used for cooking, washing and laundry means the kitchen offers plenty of opportunities to save on your energy bill. Choosing to purchase energy efficient appliances means you’ll save money alongside saving the environment, an equally important point to note is to choose appliances that fit your needs, purchasing a large fridge-freezer for a single person household will result in wasted energy and unnecessary cost, therefore it’s important to select appliances that fit your actual needs as well as providing strong environmental performance. Elsewhere in the house there exists potential for more savings by choosing the best rated appliances, or use standby saving devices to save energy with your current appliances. It’s more critical than ever that we choose to place environmental performance at the heart of our purchasing decisions.