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A new regulatory framework for chillers is set to be introduced in Australia following extensive consultation with industry.

The framework will address problems identified by the Equipment Energy Efficiency Committee (E3) which found chillers were not being registered correctly under the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Act 2012 (GEMS Act).

The situation was further complicated by the nature of chillers as bespoke equipment and by the way chillers are supplied to the market. The standard approach applied under the E3 Program to registration and compliance cannot be applied to chillers when setting minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) because it is an obsolete test standard.

It is a problem which is unique to Australia and New Zealand, according to an updated E3 briefing paper entitled “Chillers: Updated Policy Position”.

To address the problem E3 will propose to the Council of Australian Governments'(COAG) Energy Council that chillers be certified by the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) or by Eurovent as meeting the applicable MEPS before they are sold in Australia or New Zealand.

This means replacing the ANZ standard AS/NZS 4776:2008 with AHRI 551/591:2015 and the European test standards, EN 14511:2018 and EN 14825.

“E3 recognises that some suppliers of smaller chillers may not have AHRI or Eurovent certification and obtaining such certification may be an unreasonable burden. For this reason, E3 will propose that a supplier may provide a report of a physical test in an AHRI or Eurovent certified laboratory, as evidence that the chiller meets the appropriate MEPS,” the briefing paper said.

“Each model registered using this alternative approach would need a separate test report. E3 is aware of only one laboratory certified by AHRI in Australia, but most suppliers of chillers within the scope of regulation would be connected to international supply chains, including laboratories overseas.”

E3 has also recommended that all chillers with a rated cooling or heating capacity of at least 100 kW comply with the applicable MEPS, before being sold in Australia or New Zealand.

Chillers under 100 kW in capacity will be out of scope and will not be regulated for energy efficiency or performance.

“Implicit in this position is that the use of specialised or alternative refrigerants would not be a basis for exclusion of a chiller from the applicable MEPS. That is, all refrigerants would be included,” the paper said.

Chillers that heat or cool potable water have been excluded from MEPS compliance along with chillers that do not use mains electricity or are driven by an electric motor and chillers with remote condensers.

Examples of other exclusions include air-cooled, free-cooling chillers and adiabatic chillers or chillers with titanium heat exchangers and those with 6-pipe units.

Chillers with centrifugal fans must also comply, however, if the centrifugal fan detracts from the energy efficiency of the chiller suppliers can apply for an exemption from meetings MEPS.

“Suppliers should note that the GEMS Regulator assesses exemptions on the merits of each individual case and not all applications for an exemption may be granted,” the paper said.

As well as an increase in the number of chillers set to be registered in Australia, figures from the Cold Hard Facts 3 Report show continuing demand for large commercial chillers over the next decade.

The research, which was commissioned by the Department of Environment and prepared by the Expert Group, estimates there was 22,600 chillers operating in Australia in 2016 containing approximately 4,200 tonnes of refrigerant.

New chillers sales are expected grow at around 1% per annum or in line with construction activity in large commercial buildings, the report said.

Generally, chillers require larger refrigerant charges and the majority are charged with HFC-134a.

“While demand for large commercial chillers is expected to grow strongly, the bank in this segment is predicted to expand by a modest 6.4% over the projection period from around 4,200 metric tonnes in 2016 to approximately 4,650 tonnes in 2030 as chillers are being substituted with other AC technology such as VRV/F systems,” the report said.

All of the global manufacturers of space chillers (including local manufacturer Smardt Chillers) are offering equipment charged with HFOs or HFO/HFC blends.

“The refrigerant landscape in this segment is changing rapidly, primarily driven by experiences in the European Union where the HFC phasedown timetable is driving change,” the report said.

The HFO refrigerant of choice for large centrifugal chillers is HFO-1233zd with several large installations undertaken in Australia during 2017 using this refrigerant.

Some suppliers are adopting a two-step approach, moving to a Class A1 HFO/HFC blend with around half the GWP of HFC-134a, such as HFC-513A (GWP of 632), while planning the transition to pure HFOs.

“One impediment to this transition, particularly to HFO-1234yf is the additional installation costs arising from its Class A2L mildly flammable classification,” the report said.

New fee structure

The proposed regulations would take effect January 1, 2021. E3 has recommended the new MEPS levels for chillers be published in a determination under the GEMS Act rather than referenced in an ANZ standard.

To address concerns by industry about this approach, GEMS inspectors will consult with the chiller industry to ensure regulators can monitor and enforce compliance effectively.

A registration fee will apply to every chiller that is registered even if the difference in cooling or heating capacity between the two chillers is as little as one kilowatt (kW).

According to the briefing paper there will be no grouping of registrations and no 'families' of chiller models.

This approach is expected to dramatically increase the number of chillers registered.

However, the cost of registration is yet to be decided.

“The GEMS Regulator will consider the number of likely registrations and the cost of registration, compliance and any check testing, in setting the fee to be applied to chillers,” the paper said.

“E3 understands that industry acceptance of this approach to registrations is predicated on a significant reduction in fees and E3 will work through these issues cooperatively with industry.”

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