Air conditioning and refrigeration units are pervasive, and at present, there are over 50 million installations in Australia.
They consume 23 per cent of the electricity we generate and they generate 14 per cent of national emissions, making them the leading source of energy use and emissions in the built environment. But who is responsible for leading the change to an energy efficient, low emissions industry?
The fact is that there is an enormous opportunity to reduce the cost of HVACR services. We believe Australia can reduce these energy costs by about $10 billion per annum. It is therefore critical that we all understand the opportunity for cost savings. It is critical that our investments in HVACR recognise the future technology in the field so that we future proof our investment and maximize life cycle cost savings.
The technology is changing rapidly driven by three key factors:
- The high cost of energy and therefore high demand for more energy efficient HVACR systems and cost savings.
- International agreements to reduce the use of high global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants – HFCs and HCFCs. This will require the use of, or conversion to, systems that use low-GWP refrigerants.
- Rapidly changing technologies for measuring, reporting and controlling energy use. If you measure it you can manage it.
These key drivers are highly interactive.
When you choose an HVACR system, you choose the refrigerant it uses. Put another way, the systems are designed for a particular refrigerant.
The two are inextricable and they have important implications: energy efficiency and future feasibility. Energy efficiency and emissions reduction are two sides of the same refrigerant selection coin. When you choose a system you choose the refrigerant. When you choose the refrigerant you choose the energy efficiency and the future feasibility of servicing the system.
When you decide to invest in HVACR energy efficiency it is fundamental to measure and manage your system for optimal energy efficiency. New energy management systems are making this far easier. Your smart phone can serve these purposes in concert with new energy measurement systems.
Designing and managing HVACR systems involve all three key drivers: selecting the right refrigerant, selecting the most energy efficient system for that refrigerant and designing the system to enable a high degree of control, benchmarking and ongoing optimization for maximum efficiency and performance.
The future is low-GWP refrigerant systems.
It is now clear that international agreements will call for the phase down in the use high-GWP HFC refrigerants. The EU has passed legislation for this purpose. The US in concert with the rest of North America, China, India and many others have begun negotiations within the Montreal Protocol for the same purpose. Australia has indicated its support and is well on its way to phasing out ozone-depleting refrigerants (HCFCs) that also have high global warming properties. Check out the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to see the UNEP policy on HFC phase down – it’s inevitable.
This initiative reflects the fact that high-GWP refrigerants will become a high proportion of global emissions if they are not phased down and out. Because HFCs have a relatively short atmospheric life (21.7 years on average) their radiative forcing impact occurs during the first 20 years following their release. Because of high HVACR industry growth, HFCs could be responsible for as much as 45 per cent of global emissions by 2050 if we don't dramatically reduce their use.
The Australian HVACR industry will inevitably transition to low GWP refrigerant-based systems because they are more energy efficient and feature lower emissions.
There are two kinds of low GWP refrigerants:
- Natural refrigerants – hydrocarbons, ammonia, carbon dioxide, air, water
- Hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) – low global warming synthetic refrigerants
- HFO/R32 blends – not low global warming
Natural refrigerants are highly energy efficient, low cost and environmentally preferable. Check out the Good Environmental Choice Australia standard for refrigerants.
HFOs are no more energy efficient than the high-GWP synthetic refrigerants they will replace, very expensive and emit highly dangerous combustion products such as hydrogen fluoride (HF) and carbonyl fluoride (COF2). They are, however, low-GWP and will therefore be aggressively promoted by their suppliers.
HFO blends like HFO and R32 have been suggested. These have been offered up as low-GWP alternatives, but they in fact are not. The 20-year GWP of R32 is 2330 times carbon.
There is a clear division between synthetic refrigerants manufacturers/suppliers and natural refrigerant manufacturers/suppliers.
All synthetic refrigerants used in Australia are imported. Synthetic refrigerant suppliers have enormous investments in the production of patented synthetic refrigerants and therefore have a great deal to lose if their products are replaced by natural refrigerants. As a result they tend to be highly critical of natural refrigerants despite the extensive evidence that natural refrigerants are energy efficient and widely accepted in many sectors. Have a look at hydrcarbons21.com, ammonia21.com, R744.com.
Synthetic refrigerants were originally developed because they were safer than natural refrigerants 70 years ago. Our ability to manage refrigerants has changed a great deal over this period. Natural refrigerants can now be used safely, but the synthetic refrigerant suppliers would rather criticize their competitors than recognize the truth. They create the controversy that serves their purpose regardless of the importance and benefits of natural refrigerants and the risks of low-GWP synthetic refrigerants. Natural refrigerants are largely manufactured in Australia.
There are about 20,000 firms that sell and install HVACR equipment, employing about 70,000 tradespeople licensed to use refrigerants. There are over 145,000 electricians, almost 80,000 plumbers and over 12,500 architects. And then there are all of us as end users.
So who is responsible for getting HVACR right? You are.