Berkeley Lab Research News

Small Appliance Energy Use Surging In U.S. Homes

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August 19, 1998

By Allan Chen,

BERKELEY -- Almost all growth in residential electricity consumption over the next two decades will come from the often neglected small appliances in U.S. residences (the so-called "miscellaneous" end uses), if current trends continue. This is one of the conclusions of researchers in the Environmental Energy Technologies Division of the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in a recently released study funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The scientists also found that U.S. consumers would save more than $1 billion each year if manufacturers applied proven technologies to reducing the "leaking" component of miscellaneous electricity use.

Growth in the miscellaneous electrical end uses is as old as the history of home electricity. Electric companies were promoting toasters, hot plates, ceiling fans, massagers and the like as far back as 1900, largely for load building in the then-tiny market for residential electricity. The "miscellaneous" electricity end uses include many household appliances such as televisions and VCRs, water bed heaters, aquariums, electric toothbrushes, home computers, microwave ovens, ceiling fans, hot tubs, and halogen torchiere lamps.

In their report, Berkeley Lab scientists tallied the past energy use and projected future growth of nearly 100 of these products from 1976 to 2010.

"Miscellaneous electricity use now accounts for about one-fifth of all electricity used in U.S. homes, and it's growing quickly," says Marla Sanchez, lead author of the study. Miscellaneous uses are becoming relatively more important because some of the conventional uses of energy have become much more efficient (due to EPA and DOE's voluntary ENERGY STAR Programs, efficiency standards, and other policies) and because people are buying more energy-using appliances that fall into the miscellaneous category.

"Miscellaneous energy use in U.S. homes grew 4.6 percent annually from 1976 to 1995, more than doubling over that period," says Sanchez. The researchers project that without policies addressing miscellaneous energy use, it will increase between 1996 and 2010 by an additional 50 percent, accounting for almost all forecasted growth in residential electricity use. This growth is equivalent to the output of about 15 large (1,000 MW) power plants. "We project that consumer electronics and halogen torchiere lamps together will account for 70 percent of the forecasted miscellaneous growth," says Jonathan Koomey, leader of the Energy End-Use Forecasting Group, and a co-author of the report.

"In some homes, conventional uses of energy are dwarfed by miscellaneous appliance loads," says Sanchez. For example, a heated water bed can consume more electricity than an efficient refrigerator. Altogether, the nation's water beds consume the electricity produced by two large power plants.

"Aquariums can be huge energy guzzlers -- a 180-gallon coral reef tank can use more energy than a residential central electric heating system and refrigerator combined. Fortunately, only 0.08 percent of homes have such energy intensive aquariums," notes Sanchez.

Now that the various components of miscellaneous electricity use have been clearly identified, Berkeley Lab researchers are devising cost-effective ways to reduce it.

About 20 percent of miscellaneous consumption comes from standby losses of appliances that are switched off or aren't performing their principal purpose. These standby losses are sometimes called "leaking electricity" and mainly occur in consumer electronics. "More than $1 billion per year could be saved in the U.S. by reducing the standby power loss of every leaking appliance to one watt. These efforts would reduce standby power consumption by nearly 50 percent," says Alan Meier, a co-author of the report. Meier also noted that the one watt level for standby power is now routinely met by models offered by major manufacturers in most product categories, without affecting the services delivered to consumers.

Another major energy user in the study is the halogen torchiere. Torchieres have high operating costs and burn so hot that they pose a fire hazard. In fact, the 1992 Windsor Castle fire was ignited when flammable cleaning fluid made contact with a 250-watt halogen lamp similar to those found in halogen torchieres. Berkeley Lab researchers have developed an energy-efficient, safer replacement for the halogen torchiere using compact fluorescent lamps. This replacement uses less than one-fourth the energy of the standard halogen torchiere, is significantly cooler (and hence safer), and will pay for itself in two years or less in reduced expenditures for electricity and bulb replacements.

A downloadable PDF version of the paper "Miscellaneous Electricity Use in the U.S. Residential Sector" is available at The journal Energy Policy will publish an article by the authors later this year, and another short paper on this topic will be presented at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy's Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings in August 1998.

Berkeley Lab scientists Mithra Moezzi and Wolfgang Huber of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division also contributed to the report.

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

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