Authors and contributors
IEA (2019), "Tracking Buildings", IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/reports/tracking-buildings
Electricity use by household appliances and other small plug-load devices –products powered by means of an ordinary AC plug – has grown by nearly 3% per year since 2010, to almost twice the electricity consumption of Africa and the Middle East in 2018.
While energy policies have led to efficiency gains, especially for major household goods such as refrigerators and televisions, small appliances and plug-load devices globally are not aligned with the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS), and annual growth rates in total energy consumption need to fall by 40% by 2025.
Recent product improvements are promising, as appliance manufacturers have taken advantage of technological advances to produce increasingly efficient products, for example by using advanced sensors, direct-drive motors and heat pumps in clothes washers and dryers.
Ever-changing consumer preferences and growth in overall ownership are eating into these savings, however. The rise in ownership of major appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines and televisions continues to push up energy demand in many countries, especially in emerging markets. For televisions, or displays in general, increases in screen size, resolution and picture quality counteract the effect of energy savings.
Of total final electricity demand from all appliances and other electrical equipment in residential buildings in 2018, major appliances accounted only for one-third – down from 46% in 2000.
This decline is due to significant growth in small plug-load devices such as routers, box tops, computers, telephones, tablets and other connected devices. Overall plug-load energy use has increased twice as quickly as for major appliances over the past decade.
In some countries, such as Canada, Japan, Korea and the United States, electricity demand from major household appliances has even decreased since 2010, largely because of energy efficiency improvements and appliance ownership saturation – but again, higher plug loads have largely offset those savings.
The proliferation of mobile devices and consequent battery charging has also raised plug loads.
Although the most efficient products on the market may be more expensive, this could be because other features are being bundled with them to give the perception of additional value.
Furthermore, in many unregulated markets, less expensive but inefficient products are also entering the market – which is why minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) are so important.
However, major appliances only accounted for one third of final electricity demand in 2018 from the total of all appliances and other electrical equipment in residential buildings – down from 46% in 2000.
This decline is due to significant growth in small plug loads, where energy use has grown twice as fast as that of major appliances over the past decade.
In some countries, such as Canada, Japan, Korea and the United States, electricity demand from major household appliances has even decreased since 2010, largely because of energy efficiency improvements and saturation of appliance ownership levels – but again, plug loads have largely eaten into those savings.
Fortunately, growth in energy demand for major appliances has been slowed by energy efficiency improvements, largely as a result of MEPS in most major markets (e.g. North America, the European Union, China and India).
Without such efficiency improvements, the final energy consumed by these goods would be nearly 20% higher. Over one-third of energy consumed by appliances and equipment are covered by MEPS.
The European Union has demonstrated the possibilities of MEPS, having released the latest Ecodesign MEPS programme in 2016 and upgraded its framework directive on energy labelling in 2017.
As of 1 January 2019, the upgraded framework energy labelling directive requires all suppliers to register their products in a new central product database for energy labelling. This will provide better consumer access to reliable information and enable regulators to manage more effective compliance regimes. Furthermore, in March 2021, the energy label will revert to the simple A to G scale, with A being the most energy efficient.
Although it is known that plug-load devices could significantly boost electricity demand growth, this market (especially for smaller devices) remains largely unregulated. Standards are not necessarily keeping up with market trends, and MEPS have not yet been implemented in many emerging markets where appliance ownership is expected to grow strongly.
To foster further energy efficiency gains in the next decade and help bring more efficient appliances and equipment to the market, all countries need to adopt or improve MEPS and extend coverage to additional products.
Wherever possible, MEPS should be based on international testing standards and, for globally traded products, be internationally aligned.
For many products, it may be appropriate for MEPS to be complemented by mandatory labelling and incentives for supply industries to make, sell and install the most energy-efficient appliances.
MEPS polices should be complemented by mandatory labelling and incentives for supply industries to make, sell and install the most energy efficient appliances.
Concerted effort is needed to improve the efficiency of small plug-load and connected devices, including by introducing and expanding policy coverage of connected devices.
The growing use of these and other plug-load devices in buildings remains largely unregulated, even though they will be responsible for more than 70% of the energy consumed by appliances in 2030, one-third of which may be related to connected devices.
Ongoing digitalisation of electric appliances is unveiling new opportunities to improve resource efficiency and allow consumers to manage their consumption through demand-side response.
New policies in this area are needed to enable the buildings sector to seize these opportunities to improve energy performance and encourage greater flexibility in end-use equipment in buildings.
Technology already exists and is readily available to improve the energy efficiency of appliances and equipment. Conventional policy measures can be employed to drive markets to adopt these more efficient technologies and put appliances and equipment on track with the SDS.
Innovation remains important to achieve mass deployment of products with even higher efficiency. Technology improvements include vacuum-insulated panels for refrigerators, heat pump technology for tumble dryers and improved silicon for electronic equipment. Innovation will also be required to continue reducing the cost of manufacturing equipment while improving energy efficiency and related performance. Furthermore, to take advantage of digitalisation benefits, consumer-friendly energy management tools are needed for smart appliances and equipment.
In 2018, global electricity use by residential refrigerators and freezers was around 500 TWh and is expected to rise a further 35% by 2050. The efficiency of residential refrigerators can be doubled through known technology, such as using more insulation (though noticeably reducing useful internal space) and better compressors. The use of effective vacuum-insulated panels (VIPs), however, would raise energy efficiency while also increasing internal refrigerator volume (for the same external area), providing better service for consumers.
Tumble dryers use a considerable amount of energy when in operation – globally energy consumption is approaching 100 TWh annually and is expected to more than triple by 2050 as ownership and use expand. Heat pump technology is therefore important, as it can significantly improve tumble dryer energy efficiency.
We would like to thank the Energy Efficient End-use Equipment (4E) Technology Support Programme for their support and for providing comments on the draft pages.