Refrigerators hold unique potential to unlock economic and social progress for billions of un- and under-electrified people globally. However, the nascent market for highly energy-efficient, appropriately designed off-and weak-grid refrigerators remains supply constrained. Refrigerators must be smaller, cheaper, and run on far less energy than conventional products to be viable for off- and weak-grid customers.
With support from UK DFID’s Ideas to Impact Initiative, CLASP procured and tested commercially available refrigerators in 2016 to establish a performance baseline. Testing focused primarily on two common types of commercially available refrigerators: refrigerators and refrigerator-freezer combination units. Among the 36 test samples CLASP procured, 24 were refrigerator-freezer combination units (67%), and 12 were refrigerators only (33%). These products underwent testing in accredited laboratories according to the Global LEAP Off-Grid Refrigerator Test Method to evaluate their energy performance, service delivery, durability, and off-grid appropriateness. The report details results in key areas: daily energy consumption, autonomy, pull-down time, and energy efficiency relative to price.
Off- and weak-grid consumers are price sensitive and energy constrained, and striking a balance between efficiency and price is a chief business consideration for market actors. Our analysis indicated that there is some correlation between price and efficiency, with higher efficiency products costing more on average. However, the correlation is not strong and included outliers on both ends of the price/efficiency spectrum.
CLASP developed the test method used in this analysis for the 2016-2017 round of the Global LEAP Awards, a competition that recognizes and rewards outstanding off-grid solar products. This past year’s Global LEAP Awards was the first to include refrigerators, which are among the top-five most-desired off-grid appliances, according to the 2017 Global LEAP Off-Grid Appliance Market Survey. The resulting winners and finalists, announced at the 2018 Global Off-Grid Forum and Expo in January, are detailed in the Global LEAP Awards 2017 Buyer’s Guide for Outstanding Off-Grid Refrigerators.
In partnership with Global LEAP, CLASP conducted preliminary research in 2016 on a variety of near-to-market products designed for use in off- and weak-grid settings – refrigerators chief among them. This research estimates that annual spending in 2015 on refrigerators by off- and weak-grid households was approximately $75 million (USD), but this figure could increase 38% year-over-year through 2020 – to $1.1 billion – if efficient, affordable products become accessible to all households with adequate purchasing power.
The potential benefits of increased access to refrigeration products in developing regions are far-reaching – spanning health, productivity, agriculture, and more. Nearly a quarter of the wasted 28% of food produced in these areas could be avoided with improved access to refrigeration and cold chain technologies. This spoilage and lack of access to refrigeration not only negatively affects farmers and others in the agricultural supply chain, but also consumers, who are met with higher prices and fewer resources. Women are typically hit hardest by this reality, as they are most often responsible for food preparation and shopping.
Refrigeration also enables income-generating activities such as the sale of cold beverages at small retail shops and kiosks. In addition, access to refrigeration advances public health, helping stave off preventable diseases and avoidable deaths from curable illnesses. Refrigeration is critical for safe transportation and storage of medicines and vaccines, but research estimates that 151 million vaccines – valued at nearly $750 million – are lost each year due to improper refrigeration.