Energy Efficiency Worth The Higher Capital Outlay

Financial Daily, 14 January 2011
Written By Sam Tan

THERE are dozens of home-related advertisements peddling everything from air-conditionals to wallpaper fittings to water features. In many of these ads, however, one gets the impression that manufacturers and merchants have yet to grasp the full significance of these products have achieved in recent times.

The pace of advancement in electrical and home appliances is on par with some of the most advanced automotive engineering enhancements in recent history. Have you noticed that modern cars are significantly more economical than before?

Same thing with electrical and home appliance. Technology has developed with some specifically engineered with energy saving in mind. The entire world is grappling with the need to conserve energy and reduce human demands on the environment. Even in Malaysia, there is looming realisation that the government cannot subsidise our electricity and utility cost in perpetuity. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention.

But adopting these energy-efficient appliances needs a shift in mindset : that in exchange for a larger initial capital outlay, a significant cost reduction can be achieved. Take, for example, the common air-conditioner, which is staple appliances in Malaysia households. Conventional thinking dictates that to save money, usage should be minimised. But technology has advanced to a point where this need not be the case.

Modern air-conditioners now come with inverter technology, which uses a variable-frequency drive to control the speed of the motor and the compressor. This allow the air-con unit to continuously regulate its thermal transfer flow (and hence energy consumption) by altering the speed of the compressor in response to cooking demand.

This, of course, does add to complexity and cost, but a higher initial expenses is balanced by lower energy bills. And in a typical setting the pay-back time is about two years, although this depends on the usage.

Traditional air-conditioners use compressors that are either working at maximum capacity or switched off periodically to regulate the temperature of the room. A thermostat is used to measure the ambient air temperature is too far from the desired temperature. But by eliminating stop-start cycles, efficiency is increased and component life is extended.

It also helps eliminate sharp fluctuations on the load the air-conditioners places on the power supply, making them less prone to breakdowns, cheaper to run, as well as generally quieter than a standard compressor.

The inverter principle has been applied to a wide range of household appliances, including microwave ovens, washing machines and refrigerators, therefore it makes sense to migrate to this technology to achieve higher savings.

One way to distinguish an energy-efficient appliance is to look out for prominently placed labels. In Malaysia, there is the Sirim Ecolabel, which informs consumers about a product’s environmental benefits. Under this scheme, products are independently tested and verified against certain criteria before they qualify for the label.

Singapore’s Green Labelling Scheme launched in 1992 applies to most products, except fod, drinks and pharmaceuticals. Post-testing, the Green Label is placed on products which meet the eco standard specified and is recognised by the international Global Ecolabelling Network.

In other words, reducing out energy foot print need not be a sea change. Many of us already use energy-saving bulbs, which works on the same principle: higher upfront capital costs in return for (significantly) lower energy consumption.

Adopting these principles in very much like staff performance appraisals where performance is assessed relative to their cost. Similarly, each of your household appliances works for you in return for a unit change, culminating in your energy bill at month-end.

How much does each appliances contribute? Which gives better performance? Which does more work? Performance co-efficiencies can and should be applied to one’s domestic workforce, never mind that they’re made of metal and plastic! If you can evaluate your staff why not your appliances?

In the UK, it’s mandatory to rate the energy efficiency of household appliances. In Malaysia that day has yet to arrive. But when one realises that many of our home appliances (“domestic workers”) operate on a 24-7 basis, it’s worth the money to run an energy-efficient household.

Sam Tan is executive director of Ken Holdings, the developer of an award-winning green certified project Ken Bangsar.