The Why and How of HVACR Energy Efficiency

Friday, September 4th, 2015
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Why worry about HVACR energy efficiency? Because energy savings bring about big-time cost savings.

To understand the needs and opportunities when it comes to HVACR energy efficiency, you need to understand the factors that are driving HVACR energy efficiency.

I have been saying for some time that the HVACR industry in Australia could reduce its costs by $10 billion per year. No matter how you use HVACR services, there are major energy savings available in every sector of the HVACR industry. From homeowners to property managers to manufacturers of temperature controlled products and everything in between, there are ways to significantly reduce the cost of HVACR services, primarily through energy savings. Whether you are an end-user or a supplier, you need to be aware of the cost savings available.

Reducing HVACR energy costs starts with selecting the air conditioning system or refrigeration system that bestmeets your needs. In every HVACR sector, there is a natural refrigerant-based technology that will significantly reduce your costs.

Most HVACR systems in use today are based on synthetic refrigerants. As a direct result, most suppliers of HVACR systems are only familiar with synthetic refrigerant-based technology because they grew up and developed their business when we thought synthetic refrigerants were the answer. Inevitably this is their comfort zone, but it shouldn’t be yours because the current range of synthetic refrigerants are not as energy efficient as natural refrigerant based technologies.

Quite logically you might then ask “why are HVACR systems suppliers not simply switching to natural refrigerants?”

The reality is that a large proportion of HVACR equipment suppliers are doing so, as evidenced on websites such as,,, and The companies listed on these websites recognise that natural refrigerants are more energy efficient, are commercially warranted and are the future of the industry. They have developed systems designed specifically to use the superior thermodynamic properties of natural refrigerants in every HVACR sector.

It is important to understand the current state of change in the industry.

CFCs, HCFCs and HFCs are three generations of synthetic refrigerants that have evolved since the 1940s. CFCs have been phased out because they are very high ozone depleting materials. HCFCs, like R22, were used to replace them to lessen ozone depletion, but they are still strong offenders on that front. They are being phased out in Australia effective in 2015.  HFCs were introduced in the 1980s to replace CFCs and HCFCs but they contribute greatly to global warming (as do CFCs and HCFCs).

HFC refrigerants such as R410A and R134A also face a limited lifespan. The European Union has legislated for the phase down of HFC refrigerants because of their high global warming potential (GWP). It is highly likely that a global agreement to phase down high-GWP HFC refrigerants will be struck late this year or early next year reflecting pressure from the governments of US, Europe, Japan, China and India.

In my view, it is inevitable that the transition will in fact be industry-led because many HVACR OEMs are already transitioning to low-GWP refrigerants.

This transition will further exacerbate the commercial confrontation of the industry. There will continue to be companies that promote synthetic refrigerant-based technology and those that promote natural refrigerant-based technology. The fact is that the suppliers of synthetic refrigerants have enormous investments and operations based on the supply of these products. They are not ready to write off their investment or to walk away from their very large revenues from selling synthetic refrigerants. They will continue to use their extensive marketing capacity and distribution systems to supply synthetic refrigerant-based technology despite the inevitable transition. Some will choose to support fourth generation synthetic refrigerants despite their high cost and relative lack of energy efficiency.

Then there are those OEMs and their distribution systems that recognise that natural refrigerant-based technologies are more energy efficient and therefore commercially preferable. Because they don’t have commitments to synthetic refrigerants, they can choose – and are choosing – naturals.

The first thing you need to recognise about HVACR is that some companies will swear by synthetic refrigerants and some will swear by natural refrigerants. Frankly, you probably don’t really care one way or the other so long as the system performs and is energy efficient unless you care about greenhouse gas emissions. But you must understand that when you select an HVACR system, you select the refrigerant and the resulting implications for the life of the equipment and its life cycle cost of operation.

If you want to focus on energy efficiency, you should fully investigate your natural refrigerant options. Choosing a natural refrigerant solution will give you the best of both outcomes. Natural refrigerant-based technologies are highly energy efficient and have a low global warming impact. Because the global HVACR industries will transition away from HFC based technologies, you will be future proofing your investment by choosing natural refrigerants.

How much energy can you save? It is really up to you how hard you are willing to work at optimising the energy efficiency of your HVACR services while considering the current condition of your HVACR systems. If you thoroughly examine all of the factors that determine HVACR energy efficiency and invest in the full range of solutions, it is highly likely that you can cut your HVACR costs by 50 per cent at least and possibly by as much as 70 per cent.

If you install HVACR energy reporting and control systems, if you minimise the heat load in your building and if you select a natural refrigerant-based HVACR system you will dramatically reduce your HVACR energy costs.

But the fact is that there is far more to HVACR energy efficiency than refrigerants. Here are some of the key considerations:

  1. Select the right supplier. You must choose a supplier that is expert in the use of natural refrigerants. Whatever you do, don’t assume that any given supplier understands the alternatives. The situation is changing quickly and a lot of participants haven’t caught up with the opportunities available. Keep in mind that there are suppliers that swear by synthetic refrigerants because that is what they know regardless of the opportunity and proof of performance available in natural refrigerants.
  2. HVACR engineering is fundamental. Whilst packaged systems are available that offer the superior performance of natural refrigerants, custom designed systems for commercial and industrial refrigeration and HVAC require engineering expertise. There are many ways to engineer for high performance and the converse. The implications for energy efficiency are synergistic with refrigerant selection. You’ll want to be confident your solutions provider designs and installs with a focus on energy efficiency.
  3. Consider the full range of energy and heat load management possibilities. Some of the key factors include air tightness, part load efficiency, lighting and appliance heat load, window efficiency, ducting R-value, and roof heat management. They all contribute to the work your HVACR system has to do, and therefore its energy efficiency. This principle seems self-evident, but it is not common practice. You will have to ask for it and ensure it is delivered.
  4. Assess the system based on life cycle costing.  There will be an investment requirement, but there are many financing alternatives that resolve this issue and enable you to benefit from operating cost savings. Whatever you do, don’t focus on capital costs without knowing operating cost savings, and be sure to fully investigate financing options that eliminate the investment barrier. The best way to minimise life cycle costs is by asking the right questions and critically evaluating the answers. Bigger is not always better.
  5. Maintenance is paramount. The best way to waste energy is to fail to maintain your HVACR system.
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