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Appliances and Equipment

More efforts needed
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About this report

Global energy consumption by plug-in appliances continued to increase in 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic. However, to be in line with the IEA’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario, final energy use for appliances and plug-loads should start to saturate and reach a plateau between 2025 and 2030.

Despite improvements in efficiency resulting from stricter minimum energy performance standards in many regions, further gains are needed and must be accompanied with user-centred behaviour shifts to reduce household electricity needs. To meet the IEA’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario, all appliances and equipment in 2035 would need to match today’s best technology. More effort is still needed by governments to realise this goal.

Building appliances energy consumption in the Net Zero Scenario, 2010-2030

Tracking progress

Appliances and equipment covered in this section are considered mains electricity plug-in loads. The major appliances are refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, dryers and televisions, while the remaining plug load is made up of other consumer electronics and small miscellaneous appliances. Appliances and equipment used for heating, cooking, cooling and lighting are treated separately.

Global energy consumption by plug-in appliances continued to increase in 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic. While consumption is increasing overall, regional differences are evident. Appliance ownership saturation and improvements in efficiency mean energy consumption in many advanced economies is falling and will continue to do so as efficiency improvements advance. For instance, even without further policy intervention, drops of 15-20% by 2030 are expected in the European Union and the United States.

Meanwhile, significant jumps in energy use are still expected in other economies, especially those in which appliance ownership is currently low and population and wealth are increasing. Energy consumption by appliances in India is therefore expected to rise by 40%, in developing Asia by over 50%, and in Africa by ~130%, by 2030.

Major appliances in the residential sector now represent less than one-third of total electricity demand, partly owing to efficiency improvements prompted by government policies. The decline also reflects significant growth in the number of small plug-load devices in use, such as routers, set-top boxes, smart speakers, computers, tablets and other connected equipment. In fact, the number of globally connected devices now exceeds the planet’s population. It is therefore unsurprising that overall plug-load energy use has increased twice as much as for major appliances in the last decade.

The proliferation of mobile devices and consequent battery charging has also raised plug load energy use, and although many of the smaller consumer electronic appliances (such as mobile phones) may use relatively small amounts of energy, their greatest environmental impact is from manufacturing and disposal. It is therefore necessary to address the entire lifecycle of electronic materials, in addition to improving energy efficiency.

Importantly, inefficient appliances are still being sold in many unregulated markets. This indicates that governments could be using minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) and energy labelling more widely, as they are critical policy tools that have been proven to raise the efficiency of a range of appliances in various markets.

MEPS and energy labelling are highly effective policy tools to make mass-produced energy-consuming equipment more efficient.

A recent report by the IEA with the 4E TCP examined more than 400 studies to show that policies that increase appliance and equipment energy efficiency are among the lowest-cost options available to reduce energy consumption and associated emissions, offering typical social benefit-cost ratios of 4:1. In other words, the financial benefits of reduced energy consumption and lower bills far outweigh the additional costs to purchase more efficient equipment and administer the programmes. For example, the US energy conservation programme delivered annual electricity cost savings of USD 40 billion in 2020, which translates into a ~USD 320 reduction in the average household’s energy bill for the year.

Benefit/cost ratio for standards and labelling programmes in selected countries


Roughly 120 countries are now using or considering using MEPS and energy labelling to improve the energy efficiency of new appliances and equipment entering the market. For instance, around 80 countries currently employ MEPS and/or mandatory labelling for residential refrigerators and freezers, meaning that ~80% of final energy consumed globally by residential refrigeration is covered. However, policy coverage is lower for other appliances. For example, only 40-50 countries have implemented minimum performance standards for washing machines, dishwashers or TVs.

However, many countries still do not use these policies because ownership levels are currently low, though they are expected to rise – along with energy consumption. Furthermore, a lack of international harmonisation and widespread application of MEPS creates an incentive to dump less-efficient products on unregulated markets.

In addition to expanding coverage, countries can continue (or begin) to periodically update their regulations to enable further efficiency gains and reduce energy consumption and emissions.

Final energy use for residential refrigerators and freezers covered by mandatory minimum energy performance standards, 2000-2021


In March 2021, the European Union updated its Ecodesign requirements for refrigeration equipment. More noticeably, it regraded its labelling requirements so that the efficiency scale reverted to A-G ratings (from the A+++ to G scale). This is the first rescaling of the refrigerator label since its introduction in 1995. In addition to the regrading, a QR code is also to be included on the label.

In Kenya, Lebanon and Rwanda, the Kigali-Cooling Efficiency Program (K-CEP) has supported the development and implementation of new refrigerator MEPS. In 2021, K-CEP entered a new phase and became the Clean Cooling Collaborative.

In addition, Ghana’s recent EcoFridges programme enables consumers to buy high-efficiency five-star refrigerators from an approved product list by paying for them gradually through salary deductions.

The Super-Efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment (SEAD) Initiative is a collaboration of more than 20 governments, the IEA and other partners to accelerate and strengthen the design and implementation of energy efficiency policies for appliances and equipment. SEAD provides knowledge and tools to improve policies, raise awareness on the importance of high-efficiency appliances, identify energy-saving technologies and offer technical expertise.

In 2020, the IEA and the COP26 presidency launched the COP26 Product Efficiency Call to Action to help countries raise their ambitions more quickly and easily and at lower cost. G7 leaders endorsed the Call to Action at the 2021 Summit in Cornwall. The Call to Action aims to set countries on a trajectory to double the efficiency of key products sold globally by 2030 – industrial motors systems, general-service lamps, residential air conditioners and residential refrigerators/freezers.

The most effective way to get on track with the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario and improve the efficiency of appliances in the short term is to apply measures at the point of manufacturing and sales. Meanwhile, more efficient appliance and service solutions need to be developed for longer-term and even higher efficiency gains.

Governments need to work together and with key stakeholders to ensure that markets around the world send effective signals to consumers and manufacturers to maximise efficiency while limiting the cost of future changes. Establishing common international targets for applying MEPS can help market participants plan and deliver cost-effective, highly efficient appliances.

Better co‑ordination could be realised through programmes such as the G20’s Energy Efficiency Hub, which was launched in 2019 and has a new Secretariat as of this year. One of the first task groups to be formed (in September 2021) was the Super-Efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment (SEAD) Initiative. 

MEPS are a highly cost-effective instrument to improve the efficiency of energy-using equipment entering the market. These standards should be accompanied by mandatory labelling and can be further enhanced (as part of a policy package) by targeted incentives for suppliers to make, sell and install the most energy-efficient appliances.

In most countries where policies have already been adopted, there is potential to encompass a wider range of products (over 60 types are now covered), and the stringency and effectiveness of requirements could be raised. In some cases, underlying testing procedures will have to be improved, and in others the threshold criteria will need to be revised. Ideally, these two measures should be harmonised with existing standards to reduce costs and hasten adoption. Many emerging and developing economies could model their regulations on established ones (those of the European Union, for instance) or follow templates (such as those provided by U4E).

Standards and labelling programmes have been the backbone of the most successful appliance efficiency policies, but they can have the highest impact as part of a more comprehensive policy package. For example, a high-efficiency performance standard can define a threshold above which a product is identified as highly efficient (often by carrying an endorsement label, such as the ENERGY STAR in the United States). The sale of highly efficient products and equipment can then be promoted through policies or other initiatives.

For example, on-bill or on-wage financing (such as EcoFridges in Ghana) makes it easier for consumers to buy highly efficient products by spreading the purchase cost over many energy bills or salary deductions. 


Mark Ellis (4E TCP).