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How Much Energy You Really Save

All the time we see claims of savings on energy use compared with previous generations of appliances and, all the time, we are deeply skeptical about these claims.

Mostly we are a little suspicious of them because they are sweeping claims with little or no evidence to back them up or, they're just so outrageous that they simply cannot be true without physics having been rewritten and no-one bar the producer making the claims got the memo.

So we thought that, once and for all, we'd try to bring the information together in one article at the point of writing so that people can perhaps actually understand what they're being told and, how much of it is just pure baloney and marketing spin.

Most people will be surprised probably although, they really shouldn't be with all the cheating that goes on with fuel figures and the likes and the applaince industry is no different at all, a lot of the numbers you see are complete horse manure.

   Percentages Of Energy Use

Talk to almost any economist, accountant, statistician or just about anyone else that makes a living from using and manipulating numbers and they'll all tell you the same thing, percentages are utterly useless unless they are in context. To say that there is a 50% saving is great but, 50% of what? Compared to what?

What the marketing guys have figured out is that most people don't bother to ask they just think that this is great, I'll save 50% without you having the faintest idea of what that 50% actually represents.

Make no mistake, this is very, very deliberate.

The reason that it's deliberate is that the actual difference in like-for-like rated appliances is pretty much negligible. The chances of you saving anything more than a few pence a year choosing one over the other is, well none really.

The funny thing is, even the EU do it in their own literature, savings of 23% are promised by buying an Eco Flower rated dishwasher for example. 23% of what?

The problem with any percentage thrown at you in a marketing communication is that they all need to be explained, have the information around them shown and, almost none do when that comes to appliances and these numbers are therefore utterly meaningless.

But we'll save a fortune on electricity with a new one surely?

The table below is a typical study (this one from a paper by Defra) shows the difference from the best example and the worst example but they all assume that the product lasts ten years, which most don't given the average lifespan is seven years, but we'll work with these optimistic numbers for now.

So, the appliance you can save the most on is a cooling product, 2550kWh per decade. And, the difference between the best and worst is 255kWh per annum, a whopping 66% saving!

Looks great doesn't it.

Except that when you drill down into the numbers what you find is that 255kWh is a real cost of about £26. Which nicely says that the actual additional cost to run an "inefficient" cooling product is a staggering 50 pence (yes, pence) per week. So, over the anticipated ten years you'd save £260, maybe, if it all works as planned.

This is probably the best possible saving on offer as a cooling product is always running.

We are certainly not saying it's a bad thing to save energy as it obviously isn't but, what we am doing, is pointing out the reality of the energy saving in hard cash.

Trouble is though, you will struggle to find an appliance now, especially washing machines, dishwashers and fridge freezers, that has any less than at least an A rating so, cut those savings almost in half. Get an A+ rated machine, half them again.

Only about 10-12% (if that) of all cooling products sold in the UK are less than A rated, less than 3% are C or lower now.

On the other examples here, washing machines, you're looking at a saving of perhaps £42 or thereabouts, over a decade depending on load and use. That's a whole 8 pence per week, at best.

The table uses A versus a B rated machine, trouble is that from 2008, more than 96% of all washing machines sold in the UK are A rated or higher so that saving can be at least halved, if not more.

And, on tumble dryers, according to this information, £0.68 per week. Quite who does enough laundry to get that sort of saving escapes us other than perhaps commercial use. Tumble dryers tend to get used when they are really needed to be used and normally only during the winter months if possible.

But dryers are inefficient anyway, end of story as you're using heat to dry clothing. It doesn't matter how you slice it, you're going to use a load of energy to do that. However, what these numbers perhaps don't tell you is that spin efficiency has also been on the increase, with only 10% of all UK sold washers having less than a B rating, which extract more water, which shorten drying times. But they crease more, so increase ironing times so your energy use on ironing increases.

And that serves as a good way of demostrating that all too often, you don't save energy at all, you just move about where you use it.

It really does get quite complicated with all these percents floating about, especially when there's little to reference them against.

But when you look at this data, there's no reference to the level of use in it. So, you can have a person that uses the machine three times a week or, someone using it twice a day, we don't know. So, again, the figures aren't absolute and, they assume that the machine will actually last for the ten years.

And there's the big problem here.

You can't trust the numbers and you can't trust that you will make the savings that are marketed unless you just happen to fall into the pigeonhole used and everything pans out the way it's been presented.

In other words, you're not going to save much at all really and most people wouldn't even notice the saving on their electricity or indeed, water bill.

   Isn't replacing an old inefficient appliance better?

Not really, no unless there's a call to do so anyway.

AMDEA (the appliance manufacturer's association) has been pushing for a "scrappage scheme" for a while saying that, basically, if we all bin our old appliances that the energy saved will power a city.

Could well be true.

But, what about the energy cost to get rid of all the old appliances?

And, what about the energy cost to make all the new ones?

Did all that just vanish? Well it doesn't and in fact various learned sources say that you would never, ever even if the machines lasted twenty years, get the energy cost of production back through use.

Nobody really wants to talk about that dirty little bit in all this when scrappage is mentioned.

So the energy used to replace all these old appliances would dwarf the energy used by keeping them in service if there was no call to replace them.

  Cheating The Systems

The fact is that some manufacturer's cheat.

Let's look at load on a washing machine.

First of all you get the load capacity in a figure represented by kilograms of wash load. What's a kilo of wash? If you find two people that offer you the same answer you've done well. The figure is pretty meaningless really, useable drum volume is much, much better but you don't usually get that figure.

The reason is that you can use all the space in the tests up to the very front of the door opening to determine load capacity. Even though you can't actually use that space as it's filled with the door bowl that protrudes into the drum.

So, in theory, you could make the door bigger and have a larger load capacity rating without doing much else. Surely no manufacturer would do such a thing, would they?

But anyway, the other trick is to run a comparison per kilo of load.

We just pointed out that these numbers can be, not the most accurate will we say, but then you benchmark that number against a 5kg load machine say. Then you take the energy use per kilo of laundry from the 5kg machine and compare than against the energy use per kilo of say an 8kg load machine. At which point you can claim that there's a **% saving on energy compared to the benchmark.

In effect you wash more in one than the other then divide the energy use up, apply per kilo and get a number.

Even although you aren't comparing apples with apples.

The machine doesn't have to be filled to capacity and anyway, in the real world it's unlikely to be as the average UK wash load is about 2.5kg.

Is this illegal? Nope.

Is it immoral and misleading? We'd say so, yes.

  Old Appliance -v- New Appliance Energy Use

Another trick is to take an old machine, say from 1985 or thereabouts and compare the energy performance of that against a modern one.

That's great, if you're replacing a 1985 machine. Not so great if you're replacing anything from about 1995 onwards and, given the shortening lifespans of machines, you are unlikely to be replacing a machine that old.

Again, this isn't illegal. Misleading perhaps, but not illegal.

But it is hardly a fair comparison and it's hardly a number that you should be basing your buying decision on by a long way.

  Do You Really Care

The problem is that people don't care usually. All they see is a 30%, 50%, 70% saving banded about and assume that this is what they will get, the bigger the claim the more you're going to save.

Only thing is, a lot of the numbers are just pure and utter garbage that are only reached by running specific tests in a lab or, by doing a mathematical exercise to come up with a number that probably isn't even remotely achievable in the real world.

The diagram to the right is a graph that was recently published on the BBC website showing carbon emissions from UK homes. Basically, what it shows is power use in the home.

In total appliances constitute 15% of use, on average.

The average UK home uses (according to Strathclyde University) 5480kWh per year!

Woah, stop a minute.

That's a use of 15% of 5480kWh which is about 822kWh on appliances. But, if you add up the Defra graph at the start the best appliances are 1035kWh if you have the very best and most efficient appliances available and that's a 21% deviation. Then there's AMDEA telling us that there's ten million inefficient appliances out there just eating up carbon like it's going out of fashion and we need to dump all the old machines.

But the figures don't say that, do they? What the average UK use figures are saying is that we're using less on energy to feed appliances than the best on the market and that just plainly doesn't make any sense.

However that assumes that the 15% is correct, the 1035kWh is correct and the 5480kWh is correct. There's a lot to go wrong there.

How can this be?

The reason is that we don't all use our appliances the same way. We don't all use them as much or as little as the average and we don't all use them correctly. Some of us use a dryer only when we really, really have to, others use it carte blanche.

Some of us wash a lot, some don't.

Some of us cook a lot, some don't.

This is the trouble with averages, you get an average and it might well not relate specifically to you.

There's is no statistic that we have come across that will accurately detail all this bar one thing that comes through loud and clear irrespective of however you run the numbers.

Appliances that last longer save more energy, resources and money that any other gimmick. Replacing the machines when they need to be replaced is far, far kinder to the environment than anything else you can possibly do, including paying a few pounds more for a slightly better rated appliance.

Again, we are not saying that you shouldn't consider the energy use, of course you should. What we are highlighting is to be very, very wary of some marketing claims because, if they appear to good to be true, they probably aren't exactly reliable.

You can also save more by using the machines properly, correct temperatures, install them correctly, don't leave fridge doors open, correct program use and a host of other things but, people don't care generally and few actually follow the advice fully.

  Can You Believe Any Of These Figures


Or at least, not without actual hard numbers you can't.

Cooling is fairly easy to work out as they run all the time but, even at that, a certain manufacturer had machines that would, when tested, enter a special energy saving mode to fain a reduced power consumption. Who knows how widespread that is or how accurate the numbers are.

In fact, there is no independent verification of any of these numbers or even of the energy labels. Not so long ago there was a series of tests by Defra on over twenty appliances to see if they met the energy labeling criteria, not one did.

On top of which you have all the meaningless percentages that this article is all about.

The evidence seems to suggest that there are a lot of "not so accurate" claims made on top of flaky numbers and that's if the tests undertaken are even true and accurate. On top of which some of the numbers appear to be completely disingenuous and the claims wildly exaggerated.

All of which adds up to one simple thing, consumer confusion over energy use and savings on offer.

Besides which, once you get the appliance installed, as you can see from the penny's that you would shave off your electricity bill, the reality is that even if the appliance didn't give you the savings claimed, you'd probably never notice or even know.

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