My Fridge vs The People of Africa

My Fridge vs The People of Africa

A few weeks ago I came across an interesting graph showing the energy consumption of some guy’s fridge. The owner of the fridge was Todd Moss, a senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Development. He purchased this new fridge for his single-person household, and was shocked when he compared the energy use of his fridge with the energy use of an average citizen in each of six African nations. He made a graph to show just how much more energy his fridge was consuming.

Here’s the graph (you can read his blog post here):

Source: Todd Moss |Centre for Global Development
Source: Todd Moss | Centre for Global Development

I think it’s pretty shocking that a single appliance uses this much energy. Imagine how much energy he uses when you add in all those other appliances! It got me wondering…how much energy does my own fridge use?

Ours is a 400 litre fridge which was given to us by my boyfriend’s parents when they bought a new one. It was originally purchased in 2002 when energy efficiency ratings weren’t so much on the radar. We were pretty sure it uses a lot of energy – but how much?

When we moved house our neighbour left her old fridge behind as she no longer needed it. At 180 litres it is significantly smaller than the other one, so we decided to try it out and see if we could manage with the reduced size.

Big Fridge Small Fridge
Our old fridge is the bigger one on the right (around 400litres), and the smaller one was our neighbours (around 180litres).

In addition to trying it out for size, I decided it would be an interesting exercise to measure the energy consumption and running cost of both fridges, and borrowed an energy meter from a friend.

How to Use a Home Energy Meter

The meter I used was a Power-Mate PM10AHD. You plug it into the wall, and plug your appliance or device into the meter, and you can read energy use via the screen.

Power Mate Energy MonitorWith a fridge or an appliance that runs continuously, you need to wait for 24 hours before reading the data as the energy use will fluctuate throughout the day.

The meter measures a few things, but the interesting ones are power (measured in Watts), time (hours) and energy (kWh – which means kilo-watts per hour).

It is possible to calculate how much an appliance is costing you to run if you know what your energy company charges per unit. (You can find this information printed on your bill.) My energy company charges me 23.55 cents per unit (a unit of energy is kWh), plus a carbon component of 2.36 cents per unit, which means I pay 25.91 cents per unit of energy I consume.

The meter I used had a handy function for inputting how much my energy company charge ($/kWh), and then it calculates the energy cost per hour, day, quarter and year for me. It’s a pretty simple calculation though: energy used for one hour x cost for one unit will give you the cost for 1 hour. Multiply by 24 and you have the energy cost for 1 day; multiply this by 7 for the cost of one week and so on.

The Results:

The Small Fridge:

The small fridge uses 0.0375kW per hour of energy.
The energy use per day is 0.90kWh.
The energy use per year is 328kWh.

The cost for running the fridge for a day is 23 cents. For a quarter it costs $21.27 and for a year it costs $85.11.

The Big Fridge:

The big fridge uses 0.0728kW per hour of energy.
The energy use per day is 1.75kWh.
The energy use per year is 639kWh.

The cost of running the fridge for a day is 45 cents. For a quarter it costs $41.32 and for a year it costs $165.29.

The Difference:

The big fridge costs an extra $80 per year to run at current energy prices!

Here’s a graph showing how my two fridges compare with Todd’s fridge and the 6 African nations:

My fridge uses more energy than the citizens of 6 African nations combined : (
My fridge uses more energy than the average citizens of these 6 African nations, and almost as much as the energy of all six average citizens combined : (

The smaller fridge still uses more energy than an average citizen in each of these countries, but is far more modest than the big fridge, for which the energy consumption is ridiculous. I’m quite embarassed that I have such a power-puzzling monster in my kitchen. Whilst it’s a big fridge, it’s not unusually big for Australia and plenty of people have double-door fridges which guzzle even more energy – not that I’m trying to justify it! My one consolation over Todd’s fridge is at least ours serves two people.

I would like to tell you that we decided to keep the small fridge, but it was just a bit too small. The way we shop, with our fortnightly vegetable box delivery, and my constant baking and making-enough-leftovers-for-the-rest-of-the-week way of cooking, it just didn’t quite work. The minimalist in me is not impressed. We know the big one is too big, but it still works and for the short-term we’re resigned to keeping it.

We sold the smaller fridge on Gumtree (with our old neighbour’s permission); they guy who bought it wanted a second fridge to go in the garage…as a beer fridge. Yep, a separate fridge just for his beer. I wonder what the people in those African nations would think of that?

Have you ever checked the energy consumption of your electric appliances? Were you surprised with the results? Or have you never even thought about it until now? Leave a comment; I’d love to hear your thoughts!

19 Responses to My Fridge vs The People of Africa

  1. Great article! I checked out our kitchen appliances and was surprised how much our electric hob uses. I expected the oven to be high but not the hob. Since then I have switched to the slow cooker and a wonderbag where I can. I don’t think I could manage a smaller fridge either!

    • Yes, I’m planning to check everything else around the home now! In the flat I’m living in now, we have a gas hob and a gas oven so the fridge is the real big one. How much does your hob use?

      I know we could manage with something a little bit smaller but 180 litres was too far! Thing is, by the time we’ve sold the old one for not much, bought a new one (even second hand) and hired a trailer to get it to our flat, it wouldn’t be worth the saving we’d get in energy – we’d have spent more!

      • I think you need to balance using what you have and not wasting something good with the urge to replace with something more efficient and the energy it takes to get it home! My hob uses 0.87 kWh per hour on the highest setting and only 0.02 on the lowest. I’ll add the rest of the stats to my blog if you want to have a look. I couldn’t get behind the fridge freezer to measure it :(

        • Yes, that is true. It seems very wasteful to get rid of two fridges and then go and get another one. That’s three fridges! We probably won’t be leaving here for more than a year so when we come to move we will revisit it I think.

          That’s so interesting about the hob! I would never have thought that. I guess that’s why slow cookers are so efficient.

          Have popped over to your blog and had a look and it’s great – thanks so much for sharing!

  2. Great article but you can buy even smaller fridges than your ‘small one’ … your small one is 180 litres, the undercounter ones are only 100 litres which means you’d be almost half the energy consumption of your small one… so if you got a smaller little fridge for $150 your energy savings would pay for it within two and you wouldnt be wasting energy cooler air you didnt need to cool… that’s if you could get a smaller fridge to work.

    • Haha, yes in England small fridges are quite common but in Australia they are referred to as bar fridges and people use them just for beer!

      The other thing to remember is we have 40oC days in summer and we need to refrigerate more than in the UK. Not having a garden also means buying fruit and veg from the shops and needing to refrigerate it. Plus cooking from scratch seems to require more fridge space. Plus once you have sourdough starters, and soaking nuts and cultured vegetables the fridge… there’s not so much room!

      The 180litre one also included a freezer, so the fridge space probably was 150litres or less. We could have managed with something slightly bigger… we definitely don’t need 400 litres!

      Thing is, we have two fridges, and it’s better to keep one than discard both and buy something else. I don’t think they like moving too much (it upsets their insides) and we might only be living in this flat for 6 months to a year, so once we move we will get the most energy efficient small fridge we can! with a garden I think we’ll be able to manage much better.

      I remember on Christmas in England needing extra space as my fridge was too small, and putting the food on the balcony as it was just as cold outside! Sadly we don’t have that option here : /

  3. Very interesting! Something I noticed when we traveled to Ireland last year is that at least the people we stayed with had significantly small refrigerators than we do here in the US. When it comes time for a new fridge, this is definitely something to think about, although we already have a smallish fridge because our kitchen’s pretty tiny.

    • Yep, the same as here – UK fridges are much smaller than Australian ones. But then it’s colder too and people don’t need to put as much stuff in the fridge to keep it from going bad.

      When I do get another fridge I’m definitely going to downsize from 400litres, but energy efficiency isn’t necessarily related so it needs to be energy efficient too, and also made by a reputable manufacturer so it lasts for years.

  4. I’ve had this fantasy for a long time to forgo the fridge completely some day. (It started after I read Mosquito Coast and saw the movie.) At the moment, mine is filled mostly with beverages and fermented food. I can’t think of a way around it as long as I drink milk and eat rotting vegetables, but your post has me thinking about the fridge again. I could get by with a smaller one at least. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Have you seen No Impact Man? He tries to give up his fridge…amongst other things.

      Yep, I agree – it also depend where you live. We have 40oC summers and there’s no way we could live without one.

      How big is your fridge at the moment?

      • Yes, I’ve seen it and the makeshift fridge was a failure as I recall, at least for milk. Unlike No Impact Man, I haven’t given up bathroom tissue, as my children will likely abandon me, or call children’s aid or both.

        It’s warm here too, no 40C (yet), but still can get in the high 30s. I’m not sure how many cubic feet my fridge is, but I could make do with a smaller one. I rent my apartment and it came with the place, so I don’t have much of a choice. It’s not huge (by Western standards!), but it’s more than I need.

        • Yes it was, but that’s not to say it’s a right-off! The toilet paper thing was a bit extreme for me, too. I loved that he rigged that solar panel to his roof though!

          Sometimes it’s easier not to have the choice : ) We face too many choices anyway!

          • I don’t remember the solar panels, but that’s great. I helped my dad build a solar heater for our pool when I was little (and our neighbors thought we were nuts). It worked so well and saved about $1000 in heating costs every summer. I’ve been interested in clean energy ever since.

            You’re right about choices. People are very resourceful when they have to make do.

  5. I need to get one of those meters not so much for my home but to share with friends and family who want to reduce their energy bills.

    my experiment with seeing how little energy I could use has been a good lesson and helped me to see what I really need but can also cause me to start comparing my needs to that of people in other, less developed areas. I finally realized that as long as I rent and can’t go off grid I will always use more. The important part is to be aware of our actual needs at this moment.

    As for considering purchasing a new smaller fridge, if it were me I would look at the footprint of manufacturing a new one, the actual costs of shipping it to your geographic location, the expenses of operating a retail store to house the fridge for sale, etc. When you add up the actual environmental costs of a new appliance I would have to assume you are being lighter on the earth by using the model you have now.

    • Do you local libraries have them for borrowing? I know ours do. That would save you buying one. They are eye-opening!

      Yes, I would love to be off-grid but as a renter it’s not going to happen. I got my electricity bill yesterday for the new flat and we’ve dropped our usage to 3 units per day so I’m pleased about that. We now have a gas oven rather than an electric one, but the gas boiler in our new place doesn’t have a pilot light so hopefully our gas bill will be the same or less (I hope so). I wonder if we can drop the electricity usage to 2 units…?

      Yes, you’re right. A third fridge seems excessive! We would opt for a second-hand one anyway, but it still creates extra cost, transport etc.

  6. Now I’m wondering about using my microwave v my cooktop. I didn’t know it was relatively easy to find a meter, so will have to check that out. I had heard from off-the-grid friends who are solar that they forego using both a microwave and crockpot because they use too much energy.
    Fridge-wise, in my last house I used a hand me down tiny fridge (think hotel min-bar size) for over a year or more, while remodeling, with an ice-chest as backup if I had company.
    Thanks for another though-provoking article.

    • Thanks for your comments Sandy : )

      It was strange plugging in the kettle to the meter and watching the counter go up up up as it boiled! It costs 1.5 cents to make one cup of tea. A good lesson in not overfilling the kettle! My thermomix blender (which is noisy and I was sure would use heaps of electricity) actually seems to use less, even when I use it to heat milk for hot chocolate (cashew milk of course).

      Goes to show, it’s worth seeing with your own eyes! Se if you can get your hands on one : )

    • Thank you! Yes, those energy meters are great…very eye-opening! And it makes me feel like a detective! : )

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