DOE looks to students to build more efficient appliances

DOE looks to students to build more efficient appliances

The Energy Department is looking to a new generation of engineers and entrepreneurs to help solve the nation’s energy challenges. To that end, it awarded first prize to a team of students at the University of Maryland who redesigned the room air conditioner as part of a DOE appliance challenge. The completed prototype reduced energy use by 30 percent compared to a typical unit, which would result in substantial savings for homeowners.

To win the Max Tech and Beyond Appliance Design Competition, the Maryland team simplified the design of a standard wall-mounted air conditioner by separating the systems that remove humidity and provide cooling. The result is that the compressor consumes much less power, according to the team’s project overview.

Almost all the air conditioners in Consumer Reports tests meet Energy Star standards, which use at least 10 percent less energy than standard models. And there are other ways to save right now. For starters, don’t buy more air conditioner than you need or you’ll end up with a room that’s clammy and not comfortable. Also look at the unit’s EER (Energy Efficiency Rating). The higher the number the lower its operating costs compared to other models of that size. Some of the best units in our tests have EERs of 10.7 and higher. (Check the specs tab.)

The runner-up in the DOE contest was a team from Marquette University that developed a prototype of a hybrid clothes dryer and water heater, fired by natural gas. The unit uses the waste heat from the clothes dryer to heat water for the next load of wash. The team demonstrated that they could get a 10 percent improvement in dryer efficiency compared to products currently on the market. Their project was sponsored by A.O. Smith, which makes water heaters, and Whirlpool.

Because most dryers sold today use similar amounts of energy, you won’t find a yellow EnergyGuide label or Energy Star sticker on them—or an energy use designation in our dryer Ratings—as any comparisons would be meaningless. But the DOE and Energy Star have made finding ways to make dryers more efficient a priority. Until that happens, the best way to save money doing your laundry is to get a high-efficiency washing machine, which wrings more water out of the load. That and a dryer with a moisture sensor will ensure the machine doesn’t run longer than it has to.

The projects of the seven other teams in the appliance challenge included ways to make lightbulbs, pool heaters and home heating systems more efficient. We wish them every success.

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