Francis Hughes, 48, is part of a wave of Ghanaians and Senegalese who are buying more environmentally friendly cooling appliances.
Hughes, a science teacher from the Cape Coast in Ghana, has benefited from a scheme to purchase a new energy-efficient fridge and air conditioner supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
“Before, I was concerned about using non-energy efficient appliances that were bad for the environment and expensive to run,” said Hughes. “Now the appliances I have last longer, reduce climate change, are better for the environment and save me money on electricity bills.” The ECOWAS Refrigerators and Air Conditioners Initiative (ECOFRIDGES) was launched in Ghana in October 2020, with Senegal following shortly after. The initiative was started to help make new energy efficient fridges and air conditioners affordable to consumers and to combat the dumping of energy inefficient products in Africa.
Since the launch of ECOFRIDGES, over 1,000 new, energy efficient fridges and air conditioners have been sold in Ghana and a similar ramp-up is anticipated in Senegal. In Ghana, the Energy Commission heads the project steering committee and overall administration, liaising with partner banks and vendors and runs the website where consumers can find eligible products. A pilot phase will be starting in Rwanda in the new year and additional opportunities are being explored across Africa.
“The market dominance of outdated cooling appliances costs Africans dearly in terms of electricity bills, energy security, safety and the broader impacts on the planet,” said Brian Holuj, a Programme Management Officer at UNEP’s United for Efficiency (U4E). “We are working hard alongside officials, vendors and banks in Ghana and Senegal to make the best new technologies affordable and accessible while offering incentives that support the collection and recycling of used products.”
Not only can older appliances be dangerous, with non-authentic parts used in patch repairs, but they are inefficient, with refrigerators and air conditioners often consuming three times the electricity of appliances readily available in mature markets.
The inefficiency of cooling products adds further strain to stretched power grids and, when electricity is supplied by thermal power plants, increases air and water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Old or sub-standard refrigerators and air conditioners contain gases that can be released during repairs or after disposal. Some of those are greenhouse gases that are thousands of times more potent than refrigerants used in newer, more energy-efficient products.
Cooling Emissions and Policy Synthesis, a UNEP and International Energy Agency (IAEA) report, found that by combining energy efficiency improvements and transitioning away from super-polluting refrigerants, greenhouse gas emissions of between 210 – 460 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent could be avoided over the next four decades. Based on 2018 levels, this equates to between four to eight years of total annual global greenhouse gas emissions.
Reliable data is difficult to find in many African markets, so the scale of these challenges is hard to quantify. However, a report by the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development and CLASP found that out of a sampling of 650,00 new imported air conditioners sold in Africa, 170,000 would not meet the energy efficiency standards in the countries of origin.
With a grant from the Clean Cooling Collaborative, UNEP and the Basel Agency for Sustainable Energy are partnering with government agencies, local banks and vendors to offer interest-free loans to ensure that wage earners can purchase the most energy efficient and climate-friendly fridges and air conditioners.
“Traditionally, one of the biggest hurdles stopping buyers in sub-Saharan Africa from buying new, efficient cooling products has been the initial price premium, and with interest rates over 20 per cent, consumer financing was not a compelling option,” said Holuj. “We have seen that if we make affordable financing available and proper oversight and outreach are conducted, we can transform these markets.”
As part of the offering, those buying new appliances can trade in their old refrigerator or air conditioner for a voucher that is valid for future purchases. This ensures potentially environmentally damaging products are disposed of safely and taken off the market.
The Basel Convention and the European Union’s Waste Shipment Directive both ban the export of non-working second-hand cooling products and Ghana banned the import of second-hand environmentally damaging products in 2013. However, many countries still allow the practice and even in countries where it is banned some products make it through via informal channels.
The UNEP-led Cool Coalition recently produced a policy brief to underscore the challenges and opportunities of cooling devices in Africa.
To read more about the ECOFRIDGES project, click here.