Opportunities for Avoidance: The Potential for Energy-Efficient Appliances to Reduce Both CO₂ Emissions and Energy Costs

In this article, we break down the potential of solar appliances to avoid CO₂ emissions and reduce costs for the end user.

By Nicholas Lam (Schatz Energy Research Center), Eli Wallach (Schatz Energy Research Center) and Jenny Corry Smith (CLASP)

In 2019, Efficiency for Access released the State of the Off-Grid Appliance Market Report , which examined the market growth potential for three of the most popular off- and weak-grid appropriate appliances: televisions, fans and refrigerators. The report revealed that markets for these appliances were nascent, but on the cusp of transformative growth due to a combination of increasing demand for services, falling appliance and energy costs and access to financing. By 2030, the cumulative off-grid market potential for these appliances was projected to be worth 25.3 billion USD (14.3 billion for refrigerators, 9.5 billion for TVs and 1.5 billion for fans) in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with over three quarters of the population affected having no access to the grid. This potential, in part, may be attributed to the increasingly sophisticated energy efficiency metrics of these appliances. For example, the report found that between 2014 and 2017, the energy efficiency of televisions alone improved by 45%. All three of these appliances have seen major gains in energy efficiency, and continue to have profound impacts on people’s livelihoods.

Highly efficient, solar-powered, off-grid appropriate appliances (“solar appliances”) present an opportunity to meet critical energy service needs globally, replacing the need for technologies that emit health and climate-damaging air pollution and lead to increased household expenditures. Such appliances also help reduce the dependence on inefficient fossil-fuel generators and unreliable grids. By providing a higher quality of service, these appliances displace stopgap technologies such as kerosene lamps, candles and solid fuels for cooking that also contribute to air pollution, damaging both human and environmental health. Improvements in appliance efficiency can also decrease demand for electricity for the same level of service, reducing upfront cost of infrastructure needed to generate power. Solar appliances can reduce emissions and provide cost savings even when polluting sources of electricity continue to be used.

To explore the avoidable emissions opportunity for solar appliances, we applied the Low Energy Inclusive Appliance (LEIA) Emissions Tool,¹ which calculates the air pollutant emissions from operating electric appliances and changes (theoretical potential) in emissions resulting from energy technology transitions across off-grid, weak-grid² and on-grid areas. In this article, we use the LEIA emissions tool to estimate the annual carbon dioxide equivalent (CO₂e) emissions from achieving 2030 appliance market potentials³ in several key markets: Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria.⁴

Throughout this article, we break down the potential of solar appliances to avoid CO₂ emissions and reduce costs for the end user. Towards the end of the article, we outline the limitations of this analysis, as well as possibilities for next steps in using the tool and understanding how high-performing appliances can respond to our urgent global need to address the climate crisis in a sustainable, just manner.

Avoiding CO Emissions: Opportunities for Energy-Efficient Appliances

Estimating the number of customers (measured in households) affected by a solar appliance is critical to understanding the potential welfare and climate benefits of energy transitions. For this analysis, we estimate unit appliance savings/benefits using three different 2030 market size projections, estimated as part of the State of the Off-Grid Appliance Market report.⁵ These market projections indicate the number of households that meet financial (e.g., expendable income, access to finance) and physical access criteria⁶ in the year 2030,⁷ making it possible to purchase an appliance. In areas where ownership rates of the three appliances examined — TVs, fans and refrigerators — are currently low, our projections reflect potential users in 2030; the reported emissions reflect an opportunity to avoid future potential emissions, rather than an opportunity to cut current emissions.

In Table 1, the emissions generated from solar appliances and renewable power sources are categorised both separately and in combination. One scenario combines both highly efficient appliances and high renewable sources (i.e., 90% solar energy), which generates the most amount of savings for appliance users. Without solar power, appliances are run by electricity powered by generators or the grid. The size of the reduction from a solar transition depends on the type of power source that households use in place of solar: for on-grid, this would be the grid; for off-grid it would be a generator. Since generators are less efficient at generating electricity, the climate benefits are larger when a household transitions from a generator to solar energy. If a household does not use electricity prior to adopting solar, there is no climate reduction benefit because their starting emissions were zero.

Table 1. Scenario assumptions. Corresponding assumed efficiency values by appliance are in Table 2.

Following an optimistic pathway of High Renewables and High Appliance Efficiency, average estimates of the avoidable emissions for individual appliance market potentials range from 4 to 132 metric tonnes (Mt) CO₂e per year across four country markets examined (Figure 1). As a comparison, if minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) were adopted for air-conditioners, lighting and refrigerators-freezers in all four of these countries, then 131.3 MtCO₂ could be avoided cumulatively from 2023 to 2041.⁸ Refrigerators account for over half of the global market opportunity in 2030 (14.3B USD).⁹ However, televisions contribute most of the total avoidable emissions across all geographies, except for Nigeria (Figures 2 and 3), due to their lower capital costs resulting in greater market potential/uptake, despite their smaller marginal emissions savings.¹⁰

Figure 1. Annual avoided carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (mega-tonnes) when fan, refrigerator and TV-related service needs are met with high efficiency appliances and renewable energy, relative to the reference scenario. Bar heights represent the median of observed estimates; error bars reflect the minimum and maximum estimate when different appliance sizes.


Figure 2. Avoidable annual CO₂e emissions (mega-tonnes per year) resulting from achieving appliance market potentials in 2030 in Nigeria. Error bars reflect the minimum and maximum estimate when different appliance sizes (power draws) and market sizing projections are assumed. Bar heights represent the median of observed estimates.


Figure 3. Avoidable annual CO₂e emissions for high efficiency fans, TVs and refrigerators in Nigeria (Mtonnes per year). Avoidable emissions for medium sized appliances under the three market size potentials. In order of increasing market constraints: Total addressable market (TAM), Total Serviceable and Addressable Market (SAM) and Total Serviceable and Obtainable Market (SOM).

Energy efficient TVs avoid 0.7–1.7 tonnes of CO₂e per year, while fans avoid 0.5–2.9 tonnes, and refrigerators avoid 1.7–2.9 tonnes, relative to a low efficiency alternative. The lower-end of the emissions ranges are more indicative of grid-powered, smaller appliances and the upper-end of generator-powered, larger appliances.

The size of these energy savings is mainly dependent on how electricity is generated. Highly efficient fans, TVs and refrigerators currently consume 1.7–6.4 times less energy than their low efficiency alternatives (see Table 2); however, the associated marginal emissions reduction is around ten times greater when electricity comes from a backup generator rather than the grid in most of the countries examined.¹¹ In many countries, this is because backup generators are far less efficient at converting fossil fuels to electrical energy, even after accounting for grid-specific losses in transmission and distribution. Additionally, central grids in some countries already incorporate power generated by renewables. Thus, efficient appliances can provide partial reductions in end-use emissions from non-renewable energy sources, while solar potentially avoids these emissions entirely.

Table 2. Efficiency classifications by appliance. Appliance efficiency estimates based on values reported and summarised in the VeraSol database.

An implication of the difference in emission benefits by power sources is that the majority of avoidable emissions result from off-grid households’ adoption of solar. These homes are likely to rely on generators, as opposed to effects of efficiency. Energy savings from appliance efficiency (as shown in Figure 2) are a result of households that continue to use fossil-fuels to power their highly efficient appliances, compared to solar, which results in a small marginal emissions benefit that affects a smaller number of households.

Associated Cost Savings

The reductions in energy consumption also translate to potential operational cost savings to users (Table 3). The wide range of cost benefits within the same power source arise from differences in the cost of electricity and fossil fuels across the four countries examined. It is important to note that the overall savings potential will be contingent on operational costs outpacing the capital costs of more efficient appliances, and the lifetime of these appliances — neither of which are examined here.

Table 3. Comparison of cost savings (USD) for energy-efficient fans, TVs and refrigerators using on-grid power versus a generator.

Appliance efficiency also has an indirect contribution to cost savings by having lower capital cost. Solar appliances can help reduce the solar home system and battery size, thus decreasing capital costs. Additionally, the cost of daily energy use becomes null, except for operational costs.

The capital cost of a solar system sized to meet electricity requirements equivalent to the average on-grid household with a medium-sized efficient fan, TV and refrigerator is roughly 25% less than a system designed for the same loads, but with non-efficient appliances, assuming current component costs in Kenya (Figure 4). Most of these savings are attributed to reductions in battery size, and to a lesser extent, panel cost. The avoidable emissions resulting from appliance efficiency benefits on market size are not reflected in our estimates, but would increase the potential for avoidable emissions attributed to the uptake of high efficiency appliances in the middle panel (“High Efficiency”) of Figure 4.

Figure 4. Relative change in the capital cost of a component-level solar system design sized to meet the total electricity demands of an average on-grid household in Kenya, plus the three studied appliances under high, medium and low efficiency contexts. Bar stacks correspond to individual solar system components.

Limitations of analysis

Our results represent a preliminary examination of the avoidable emissions potential and opportunity for highly efficient appliances. A number of refinements would improve the reliability of these estimates, including consideration of embodied emissions (i.e. life cycle emissions), variations in appliance usage characteristics across sub-populations and changes in these usage characteristics over time.

  1. Market potentials and avoidable emissions: Market potentials provide an early indication of the number of households with the ability to uptake a product considering capital and operating costs, and physical constraints affecting access to appliance markets. Although the projections of the number of users from such an approach are more conservative than typically assumed when sizing climate benefits of clean energy transitions, these projections typically consider a less efficient incumbent technology being fully displaced. Current ownership rates of fans, TVs and refrigerators are relatively low, however, so emissions benefits proposed assume that demand for these appliances do eventually achieve market potential.
  2. Embodied Emissions: Our emissions estimates only include end-use emissions from power generation and do not include the emissions associated with the construction and manufacturing of solar power system components, the appliances or effect of appliance lifetimes.
  3. Appliance usage characteristics: The potential cost and emissions savings of replacing an inefficient appliance with a high efficiency alternative is sensitive to the duration of daily usage. For this analysis, we assume daily usage characteristics for fans (8 hrs), TVs (3 hrs), and refrigerators (24 hrs).
  4. Future user characteristics and grid reliability: For sizing the benefits of highly efficient appliances on capital investment of solar systems, monitoring the future (MTF) surveys were used to estimate the average electrical consumption not associated with studied appliances. These are household surveys based on self-reported energy expenditures collected between 2017–2018. We assume that consumption patterns do not change between now and 2030. It is likely, however, that average household electrical consumption will change in response to changes in power reliability and appliance performance; we make no attempt to project energy consumption changes into the future.

Efficient Appliances for the Future

Across the four countries we examined in this report–Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and Ethiopia–solar appliances like TVs, fans and refrigerators have demonstrated far-reaching potential to benefit individuals and the overall planet. While this analysis using the LEIA emissions modeler just brushes the surface of the cost-saving and emissions-reducing capacities of these three appliances, it opens a window onto the transformative potential of solar appliances in general. With new technologies coming onto the market or gaining traction, such as electric pressure cookers, e-mobility or walk-in cold rooms (check out Efficiency for Access’ Solar Appliance Technology Briefs for market analysis on these technologies), it is crucial that further analysis on the role that efficient appliances play in improving our climate response and efforts to reduce global poverty, be carried out.

We hope that this blog post, by taking a deeper dive into the State of the Off-grid Market Report, provides one stepping stone among many to seeing solar-powered appliances incorporated into global climate and poverty efforts.

¹ This tool was developed by CLASP and the Schatz Energy Research Center (SERC) to calculate the emissions from operating electric appliances, and changes in emissions resulting from energy technology transitions in off-, weak-grid and on-grid areas.

² Off-grid and weak-grid refer to places that are not connected to the main electricity grid, or are systems that suffer from frequent brown/blackouts and voltage fluctuations/instabilities.

³ Market potentials come from the 2019 State of the Off-Grid Market report. Data from an Excel tool developed by Dalberg were used to provide additional details that were informative for modeling.

⁴ The analysis combines the strengths of a market sizing tool and emissions tools developed as part of the Low Energy Inclusive Appliance (LEIA) program, and insights on energy use and expenditure characteristics from data collected by the World Bank Multi-Tier Framework Surveys.

⁵ Efficiency for Access Coalition, “State of the Off-Grid Appliance Market”, 2019.

⁶ Based on World Bank road accessibility indices as a proxy for supply-side challenges of reaching customers.

⁷ Not through 2030, but in the year 2030.

⁸ Analysis completed using the CLASP Mepsy tool, which models the impacts of energy and carbon reduction policies. This scenario assumes policies take effect in 2023.

⁹ Efficiency for Access, “Solar Off Grid Appliance Market Report”, 2019.

¹⁰ A deeper dive into the avoidable emissions in Nigeria suggest that the large uncertainty in emissions benefits in Figure 1 and Figure 2 arise from the large range in market potentials for TVs, fans, and refrigerators relative to other countries.

¹¹ Relative impact will vary based on the grid mix in a country but ranges from XX-XX for countries examined here based on grid emission rates from XX and emission factors for petrol generators.