November 22, 2014

Save Energy and Save Money or Not?

Energy costs are going up and we’re surrounded by warnings of global warming.  What’s a conscien-tious consumer to do?  Buy an energy efficient appliance of course.

From washing machines that use steam instead of hot water, to refrigerators that use low-energy compressors, to low-power computer screens, electronics companies are furiously developing energy-efficient products and heavily promoting lines already on the market that use less electricity than competitors’ brands.

Homemakers are increasingly buying front-load washing machines, which use gravity to move water instead of agitators as in top loaders.

And now, new washers from LG Electronics and Whirlpool offer an option to use steam instead of hot water, cutting water and power use by more than 70 percent compared with some top-load models.

LG expects 4 out of 10 front-load washers it sells in North America to use steam technology by the end of this year, compared with 2 out of 10  currently.

Their biggest appliance plant in South Korea makes mostly front loaders, while recently built plants like one in Russia have stopped manufacturing top loaders altogether.

Among refrigerators, which consume 30 percent of overall power in a typical home, traditional compressors are giving way to linear compressors that use up to 40 percent less power and make less noise.

In the computing industry, power-saving has long been a key priority as bigger and hungrier gadgets challenge battery life.  PC makers from Apple to the Lenovo Group are replacing screens lit by conventional cold cathode fluorescent lamps with light emitting diode (LED) displays.  “LED saves up to 40 percent of the power used in traditional backlights,” said Jeff Kim, an analyst at Hyundai Securities. “Next year they will be commonly found in notebook screens, and will be increasingly used in TV panels from 2010.”

But too often, these energy-efficient products carry a hefty price premium to reflect the cost of developing new technologies, which in turn hampers faster adoption.  For instance, Whirlpool’s washing machines with steam are sold at $1,300 to $1,500, compared with a traditional machine priced at $700.  Still, makers argue that the lifetime savings from green products could amount to the price of the appliance itself.

Sometimes a little incentive helps.

The Japanese electronics retailer Bic Camera is running a campaign in which buyers of eco-friendly products get extra credit points that can be used for future purchases. “That’s a little nudge to help people buy products that are more efficient, even if they are slightly more expensive,” said Naoko Ito, a Bic Camera spokeswoman. “Consumer interest is high.”