Common U.S. Devices Consume More Energy Per Year than Entire Countries’ Economies

A new analysis of devices and equipment commonly found in U.S. homes and businesses concludes that these products, with more than 2 billion in use, consume more energy each year than many large countries use to power their entire economies.

Household devices, such as TVs, computers and ceiling fans, as well as commercial equipment, such as elevators, icemakers and MRI machines, use 7.8 quadrillion Btus each year—which is more than the primary energy use of Mexico, Australia, New Zealand or 200 other countries, and is more than the amount of oil that the U.S. imports from the Persian Gulf and Venezuela each year. The findings come from a new report, Miscellaneous Energy Loads in Buildings, released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

The good news is that these devices could be made to use 40–50 percent less energy with existing technology, according to the report lead author Sameer Kwatra. “If consumers upgraded to the most efficient products on the market today, we could save as much energy as Argentina uses in an entire year,” he says.

All together, these devices are referred to as miscellaneous energy loads, or MELs, because they do not fit into traditional energy-use categories, such as refrigeration, HVAC or lighting. This diversity has also meant that attempts to increase MELs’ energy efficiency have varied with some products having very little or any efficiency measures in place.

While some of the devices, like ceiling fans and ice makers, are covered by federal energy efficiency standards, and others like TVs and computer monitors, are covered under voluntary efficiency specifications like ENERGY STAR, many more products in the MEL category continue to waste energy.

However interest in improving standards is currently running high. President Obama recently identified establishing new goals for energy-efficiency standards as a top priority in his plan to tackle the growing threat of climate change. Equipment like elevators and escalators, and medical devices like MRIs and CT scanners, present a huge energy savings opportunity. “It’s time to consider ways to make every power hungry device less wasteful,” says Steven Nadel, ACEEE’s executive director.

Besides establishing standards, the report recommends approaches including encouraging manufacturers to upgrade their products so that the best-performing ones now on the market become common. Utilities and other program administrators can also include MELs in their energy-efficiency portfolios and behavioral initiatives can be developed to raise awareness and modify consumption habits.

“Just because a device doesn’t fit neatly into a product category is no excuse to waste a nation’s worth of energy,” says Jennifer Amann, ACEEE’s buildings program director. “Acting on the recommendations of this report will help energy consumers like businesses and residents put money back in their balance sheets and pocket books.”

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