U.S. Unveils a $350-Million Energy-Efficiency Initiative at Copenhagen

By David Biello of Scientific American on December 15, 2009

Since the 1970s, refrigerators in the U.S. have swelled from 18 cubic feet to 22 cubic feet. But, at the same time, the energy consumption of such gargantuan coolers has dropped by 75 percent, down to roughly 40 watts, saving countless tons of coal from being burned. And a five-year global program that reached all the refrigerators in the world with similar efficiency improvements might save 1.1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide over that span, a significant contribution to combating climate change.

And that's exactly what U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) Secretary Steven Chu unveiled here Monday at the United Nations' summit on climate change: the Climate Renewables and Efficiency Deployment Initiative (Climate REDI)—a $350-million investment by major economies, including $85 million from the U.S., to bring everything from efficient refrigerators to solar lanterns to the developing world.

"The energy savings from refrigerators is greater than all U.S. renewable energy generation—all the wind, solar thermal and solar photovoltaics—just the refrigerators," Chu said in a speech announcing the initiative, noting the refrigerators also cost less. "Energy efficiency is truly a case where you can have your cake and eat it too. [But] it was driven by standards; it didn't happen on its own."

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