William Cullen at the University of Glasgow was the first person believed to have demonstrated artificial refrigeration in 1748. Half a century later Oliver Evans, an American inventor, designed and built the first refrigeration machine in 1805. The discovery of the process for liquefying gas by the German engineer Karl von Linden in 1876 provided the basic technology still used in fridges and freezers today.
The UK refrigeration market
Almost every home (97%) in the UK has some form of mechanical refrigeration, primarily to keep foods frozen or chilled.
The domestic refrigeration market is spilt between combined fridge freezers (much the largest portion), standalone fridges, and freezers of which some are upright and some ‘chest’.
Modern fridge freezers are very energy efficient compared to their predecessors, with the average energy consumption dropping from 480 kWh per year in 2000 to just 327 kWh in 2010, a reduction of nearly a third. This has mainly been achieved through improved insulation and more efficient pumps and seals.
We have also seen progressively more environmentally friendly refrigerant gases and insulating materials being used.
A further challenge to energy efficiency was the advent of frost-free technology over the last decade. The advantage of no ice accumulation, or need to “defrost” had to be set against potential for greater energy consumption. However, today practically all of the highest efficiency fridge freezers offer the frost free feature.
The energy efficiency is especially important for fridge freezers and other cooling appliances as they are on all of the time, night and day, throughout the year.
Apart from improved energy efficiency some fridge freezers have evolved to become very visible kitchen decoration with considerable attention paid to how they look. Some models have incorporated drinks dispensers and ice machines, and models are available in a great variety of sizes from small counter-top units to large double-doored versions with many times the capacity of their predecessors.
Refrigeration labels display their energy efficiency on a visual scale (currently D to A+++). The annual calculated average energy use is also shown in the number of kWh (electricity units).
The label also shows:
- the chilling capacity of the appliance (litres)
- the freezing capacity (litres)
- the noise level in operation (dB)
Wine chillers have long been popular on the Continent and are becoming more popular in the UK. These have their own labels (G-A+++) showing energy use, noise and their capacity in standard wine bottles.
 ONS, Family Spending 2013, Table A48, Percentage of households with durable goods by UK countries and regions, 2010-2012
 DECC Domestic Data Tables, Table 3.13: Energy consumption of new cold appliances 1990 to 2010