A call to action on efficient and smart appliances

As COP26 approaches, IEA spearheads international initiative to double the efficiency of key appliances sold globally

Many of us take for granted the electrical appliances that make our lives more comfortable and convenient. As more people around the world can afford to buy and use appliances such as air conditioners and refrigerators, they can benefit from healthier environments and greater levels of comfort and convenience as well as free up time otherwise spent on domestic chores.

At the same time, this means that more and more electricity is being used by these appliances. Their use now accounts for a substantial proportion of global electricity demand, and consumption is growing, especially in emerging economies. Policy that boosts energy efficiency is vital to allow more people affordable access to the good things appliances bring, without creating unmanageable energy demand or jeopardising climate targets.

New global evidence shows that appliance efficiency policies have helped to halve the energy consumption of major appliances such as refrigerators, air conditioners, lighting, televisions, washing machines and cooking appliances. This does not mean that they have become more expensive to purchase. These huge efficiency gains have been achieved even as the purchase price of the appliances fell by an average of 2-3% per year.

To deliver on global climate ambitions, however, it is essential that the benefits of energy efficient appliances are not concentrated only in a small group of countries but spread more widely. A next generation of digital connected devices is also changing the way we use appliances, presenting opportunities for greater flexibility, lower costs and decreased emissions. Policy makers must now broaden the scale and scope of appliance policy, and increase its level of ambition. That is why the IEA, with the UK government, is co-leading the Product Efficiency Call to Action to double the efficiency of key appliances sold globally in the run-up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2021 (or COP26).

Energy savings from energy efficient standards and labels over life of programmes


Appliance energy efficiency is key to reaching net zero emissions in the electricity sector

The IEA has modelled a pathway for the world to reach Net Zero Emissions by 2050. Despite an overall decrease in global energy demand, the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 scenario sees global electricity demand more than double between now and 2050. In 2021 alone, electricity demand is set to increase by almost 5%. Much of the long-term growth will be through the electrification of end uses and sectors that are not currently reliant on electricity, such as transport and heating in homes and industry. But a large share of current and future demand is accounted for by a set of more familiar products and equipment types.

Lighting, refrigerators, air conditioners and industrial motor systems – commonplace items in our homes and businesses – are an important focus for efficiency efforts because of the scale of their use. Together these account for over 40% of global electricity demand and over 5 Gt of global CO2 emissions a year – roughly equal to the United States’ current total CO2 emissions. Levels of ownership and use are set to grow as the world gets wealthier, warmer and more populous. Global energy demand for cooling could triple between 2020 and 2050, for example, driven mainly by growth in emerging economies, as air conditioning becomes more affordable to greater numbers of people.

Long-running appliance energy efficiency policies are saving up to 15% of total national electricity consumption

Energy efficiency policies can successfully move appliance markets away from less efficient products and towards more efficient ones. Minimum energy performance standards, for example, set a threshold for energy efficiency for specific products sold in a market. Energy labels, meanwhile, help consumers to choose more efficient products.

Together, energy efficiency standards and labelling programmes have been cornerstones of many countries’ energy efficiency policy for several decades. Over 120 countries have implemented or are developing mandatory standards and labels for key appliances, including many household appliances as well as industrial electric motors. For example, over 80% of global energy use for air conditioners and refrigerators is currently covered by minimum energy performance standards. However, in the markets where growth in ownership of air conditioners is fastest, such standards are often absent. Furthermore, to increase the energy saving impact of such standards, energy efficiency requirements can also be raised over time.

When designed well, standards and labelling programmes increase efficiency in highly cost-effective ways. A recent assessment conducted by the IEA with the 4E Technology Collaboration Programme showed that in 2018, in the nine countries or regions for which there were data, including the People’s Republic of China (“China” hereafter), the European Union and the United States, standards and labelling saved over 1 500 TWh of electricity consumption. This is equivalent to the total electricity generation of wind and solar energy in those jurisdictions during that year.

Because these products account for a significant proportion of total electricity use, making them more efficient can have a strong impact on total electricity demand. The countries with the longest history of applying minimum energy performance standards have achieved electricity savings of around 15% of total electricity consumption per year. Savings increase each year as older, less-efficient stock is replaced with equipment that meets higher efficiency standards. 

Impact of energy efficiency standards and labelling programmes in selected countries and regions, 2018


In countries with advanced programmes, such standards have reduced national energy-related CO2 emissions by 7-10%.

One of the most common concerns about applying such standards to appliances is that they will raise the purchase price for consumers. However, the data show that those countries with long‑running appliance standards in place have actually seen the average purchase price of these appliances falling steadily, by around 2-3% per year. This means consumers are benefiting from lower purchase costs and lower running costs.

For example, in the United States such programmes delivered annual electricity cost savings of USD 40 billion in 2020, which translates into an annual reduction in the average household energy bill of around USD 320.

CO2 avoided per year from implemented minimum energy performance standards, 2020-2030


These benefits demonstrate the value of appliance efficiency policies beyond saving energy and reducing emissions. Falling consumer prices for appliances suggest that more ambitious policies could reduce CO2 emissions even further while consumers would still benefit from lower overall costs.

Additional policies and measures are needed to maintain momentum

Standards and labelling programmes have been the backbone of the most successful appliance efficiency policies, but they can have 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 via policies or other initiatives:

  • Financial incentives for consumers, such as subsidies or rebates, reduce the costs of highly efficient products.
  • On-bill or on-wage financing make it easier for consumers to buy highly efficient products by spreading the purchase cost over many energy bills or salary deductions. The ECOFRIDGES programme in Ghana is an example of on-wage financing.
  • Technology product lists provide consumers with information to help them make decisions about highly efficient products. In many places they are associated with incentives such as preferential taxation and loans.
  • Procurement schemes allow governments to create markets for highly efficient products or encourage private sector investment in efficient products. Initiatives such as the EP100 group demonstrate private sector commitments to purchasing highly efficient products.
  • Technology awards, such as the Global Cooling Prize, reward leading-edge innovation efforts to increase efficiency and reduce costs.

The IEA has developed a simple tool, the energy performance ladder, for developing and implementing these different policies under a single consistent set of performance thresholds. For a given product, ladder steps equate to efficiency levels defined using a standard test procedure. Governments can then set policy thresholds (such as minimum energy performance standards, labels and high-efficiency performance standards) at different steps on the same ladder, and also set years in which the thresholds will move up the ladder.

The framework not only allows a clear trajectory for increasing ambition but also enables performance to be compared across markets while allowing policy to be set according to local market conditions. Where standards are harmonised across a region, the ladder also helps to create larger markets, which can decrease barriers for industry by making it simpler to comply with regulations, and increase the customer base for high-performance products, while reducing their costs.

The next generation of appliances and equipment is broadening the scope of appliance efficiency policy

In addition to policy packages that focus on improving appliance performance, the rapid growth of internet-connected digital devices is opening a new frontier for efficiency policy as the scale and scope of what is achievable is redefined and a new market rapidly emerges.

Connected sensors and automated controls can enable people and facility managers to reduce energy consumption by optimising heating, cooling and lighting much more effectively. Home energy management systems and commercial building energy management systems use more efficient equipment and a variety of smart automated appliances, sensors, controls and software to allow building users to monitor and control usage.

Installed along with efficient new appliances, home and building energy management system retrofits can enable energy savings of 20% to 30%. With the benefit of dynamic electricity pricing and time-of-use tariffs, connected appliances also allow users to reduce energy costs and shift the timing of their energy use to coincide with periods that benefit the wider energy system, such as times of maximum renewable energy generation. Together, this new wave of technologies and applications is changing the scope of efficiency policy and the scale of benefits that it can achieve. It opens up a new way of thinking about efficiency in a much more systems-oriented perspective, rather than just energy as an end use in itself.

The COP26 Product Efficiency Call to Action

The Super-Efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment (SEAD) Initiative is a collaboration between over 20 governments, the IEA and other partners to accelerate and strengthen the design and implementation of energy efficiency policies for appliances and equipment – particularly lighting, industrial motor systems, air conditioning and refrigeration. SEAD provides knowledge and tools to improve policy, raise awareness about the importance of high-efficiency appliances, identify energy-saving technologies and offer technical expertise.

SEAD is working with member countries to support the use of the energy performance ladder to increase efficiency ambition across a greater number of markets. It also aims to promote new digital tools and business models to both improve the efficiency of key appliances and unlock the wider system benefits they present.

In 2020, the IEA and the COP26 presidency launched the COP26 Product Efficiency Call to Action to help countries raise ambition more quickly, more easily and at lower cost. G7 leaders endorsed the Call to Action at the 2021 Summit in Cornwall. The objectives of the Call to Action are to:

  1. Set countries on a trajectory to double the efficiency of key products sold globally by 2030 – industrial motors systems, general lighting service lamps, residential air conditioners and residential refrigerator/freezers.
  2. Support the delivery of national climate change targets.
  3. Provide consumers and businesses with more efficient products that are affordable and cost-effective to own and operate.
  4. Stimulate innovation and provide businesses with export opportunities.
  5. Promote a dual course of action making products both energy efficient and climate friendly by reducing the use of refrigerants in cooling appliances.

SEAD and its members will play a pivotal role in achieving these objectives. These efficiency gains would also reduce air pollution, lower energy bills and enhance energy security and resilience. Energy efficiency is a vital arena for early action if the world is to achieve its climate ambition, and there are many proven policies ready to be deployed. There is no excuse not to act.