The Physics
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Power of a Refrigerator

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Anderson, Edwin P. Refrigeration: Home and Commercial. New York: Macmillan, 1990: 119. "Experience has shown that in the northern half of the United States, a good average range for the summer months is 25 to 30 kWh/month and 20 kWh for other months." 35–42 W
Energy Use of Some Typical Home Appliances. US Department of Energy. September 2000. "Refrigerator (frostfree, 16 cubic feet) = 725" 725 W
Electrical Equipment, Power Consumption. The Engineering Toolbox. 28 September 2000. "Refrigerator 75 9 80 60" 75 W
Power Consumption Reference Guide. EnergyWerx. "Refrigeration Refrig 12 cf DC 70 18 (avg) 1260" 70 W

A 1996 estimate shows that there were 106 million refrigerators in the US in 1995. During the past 15 years, refrigerators have become more inexpensive to operate, due to energy saving techniques that allow them to maintain lower temperatures while not requiring as much electric power. However, refrigerators still rate one of the topmost energy consuming devices in an average household, consuming more energy than washing machines and clothes dryers (on a yearly basis). Using the above estimate for the number of refrigerators in the US and the estimate provided by the Department of Energy, it is calculated that 1200 kg of coal is required to maintain an ordinary home refrigerator for one year and that in order to power every refrigerator in the United States with coal, 131,000 tons of coal would have to be burned.

The power required by a refrigerator greatly varies, depending on room temperature, how clean the coils, and how well isolated its contents are from the outside environment. The wattage also depends on the size of the refrigerator (generally stated in cubic feet). Most energy saving techniques require that the refrigerator be powered for only certain portions of the day, while still maintaining a nearly constant low temperature. Due to this intermittent operation, the average power greatly varies from the maximum. Estimates show that the maximum wattage may be up to 50 times as much as the average over a long period of time.

Sambit Mishra -- 2001