Go back to article: Refrigerating India

Energy and climate impacts

Refrigerators run on electricity and as outlined above are connected into refrigerated processes and spaces that run throughout the food delivery chain, so that the energy demands of refrigeration are considerable. McNary and Berry (2012) have estimated that in the European Union, about 15 per cent of household energy use goes to cold appliances (refrigerators and freezers) and in European supermarkets, refrigeration accounts for up to fifty per cent of the building’s energy consumption. The energy efficiency of the refrigerator’s compressor has increased over the past three decades, but the total amount of the electricity used by refrigerators has only declined slightly over the same period because of the increase in the size and number of refrigerators per household. In 2008, 99 per cent of homes in the United States had one refrigerator and about 26 per cent had two or more (34 per cent of California homes had two or more refrigerators) (U S Department of Energy, 2009). In the UK, where only about one in three houses had a refrigerator in 1960, today over 95 per cent of households own one. In addition to the saturation of refrigeration in the OECD countries and the rapid uptake of refrigeration in India, it is also spreading rapidly in other emerging economies such as Brazil, Indonesia and China. In China, household refrigerator ownership rose from seven per cent in 1995 to 95 per cent. The IEA has estimated that refrigeration and the other rapidly spreading refrigerating technology, the air conditioner, accounted for approximately sixteen per cent of the global electricity consumption in 2012 (GCI/IEA, 2014). If current global trends continue, Munzinger and Gessner (2015) estimate that refrigeration of food and air will contribute thirty per cent of all climate emissions in 2030.

In the USA and Europe, cold chain technology is totally embedded in the production and consumption of food. New food products and technologies are constantly emerging that are predicated on refrigeration and as such exacerbate and increase refrigeration dependence. In other words, the presence of refrigeration is shaping the sorts of foods we choose to eat, the way we shop and the way we cook. Ready-made foods and frozen foods are enabled by the cold technologies and these demand energy throughout the chain from production to consumption. Meat consumption increases in step with refrigeration. In India around forty per cent of the population is vegetarian, but for the remaining 500 million non-vegetarians, meat consumption has gradually increased over the past two decades and this can be related to increasing refrigeration. Larsen (2012) examined the relationship between meat consumption and refrigeration in the USA. His study showed that as refrigerators became standard home appliances in the 1950s, meat consumption began to increase. From 1950 to 2010 annual meat consumption increased by five times in the USA to an estimated fifty billion pounds of meat, corresponding to an annual beef consumption of 42 kg per person. The consequences of meat consumption for land use and the consumption of energy and water are dramatic. Kapper (2014) estimates that to prepare one ‘quarter pound’ hamburger requires 6.7 pounds of grain and forage for the cattle, 52.8 gallons of water, 74.5 square feet of land and 1,000 BTUs of energy. The global climate emissions attributable to meat production and consumption are 25 times that of rice (Weber and Mathews, 2008). In the UK, Oosterveer and Sonnenfeld (2012) estimate that meat and dairy consumption contribute 66 per cent of carbon emissions from food-related activities.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/180903/008