HFC emissions throughout the refrigerant supply chain are not always measured correctly, according to Australian Refrigeration Association (ARA) president, Tim Edwards. In this article he explains the importance of measuring both direct and indirect emissions.
It is very clear that the Montreal Protocol will be amended soon to call for the phase down of High Global Warming Potential (GWP) HFC refrigerants, worldwide. But there remains a pervasive misunderstanding of the contribution air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) makes to global warming and energy productivity.
The HVACR industry is pervasive in the industrialised world. We all understand how important temperature control is for both manufacture and distribution of temperature sensitive products and for comfort in the built environment. We should therefore understand the enormous proportion of energy consumed by HVACR services (over 22% in Australia).
The energy used is responsible for CO2 emissions required to generate the power to run the HVACR systems. These are referred to as indirect emissions. They will vary, depending on the energy source used in power generation. CO2 emissions are high for coal-fired power (the majority of Australian power) lower for gas-fired, and zero for hydro, wind, solar (and nuclear).
We all understand that synthetic hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants dominate the industry and are extensively emitted due to leakage; giving rise to the high contribution of HFC refrigerant emissions to global warming – direct emissions. HVACR is mechanically intense, it shakes, it breaks, and it leaks refrigerants. There are other sources of HFC emissions throughout the refrigerants supply chain that are not well measured, but are real such as end of equipment life refrigerant emissions.
These two factors, HVACR direct and indirect emissions, are seldom added together so that we see the total global warming impact of refrigerants and refrigeration systems. Therein lies the problem.
The fact is that the HVACR industries will add more to global warming than all other sources of carbon emissions / fossil fuel use combined if we do not stop using HFC refrigerants and fail to fully embrace the energy efficiency made available by natural refrigerants and energy efficient engineering.
This shocking reality is not recognized by the HVACR industry at large, but is also not recognized by just about everyone concerned with global warming and energy productivity. Climate change commentators tend to focus on smokes stacks, wind farms and solar panels. They do not recognise the immense risk of growth in HVACR emissions driven by growth in HVACR use in the developing world. This will give rise to a very large increase in both direct and indirect HVACR emissions.
The world is obviously at the cliff edge of global warming driven by carbon emissions and fossil fuel use. But the fact is that the high growth in HVACR use in the developing world will double global emissions unless we stop using HFCs and fully embrace energy efficient HVACR in concert with low emissions energy production.
Don't think this is not our problem. Global warming is a problem shared by all countries. All countries must share in delivering the solution. The solution is dependent on energy efficient, low direct emissions HVACR.
The solution is clearly a global HVACR agreement. A global HVACR agreement that calls for dramatic reduction of both indirect and direct emissions. An agreement that calls for energy efficiency, energy performance benchmarking and the elimination of HFC refrigerants. The solution is natural refrigerants in high efficiency mechanical engineering and building design.
Natural refrigerants are in and of themselves highly energy efficient because they are better, more energy efficient in heat transfer and cheaper. These are facts. Together the low global warming potential of natural refrigerant direct emissions and the high efficiency of natural refrigerants generating lower indirect emissions will deliver far lower global warming. These benefits are commercially warranted via life cycle cost savings.
Obviously natural refrigerants can be used well or poorly. If the mechanical engineering employed in the use of any refrigerant is not energy efficient, the total emissions of any given HVACR system will not be sufficiently improved.
The converse is also true. If natural refrigerants are used in concert with high efficiency mechanical engineering the HVACR system can be optimized and total emissions minimized.
If this occurs in the context of optimized and integrated energy efficiency, the total system can be highly energy efficient. By this we mean optimal energy management, heat load management and mechanical engineering.
The result is commercially warranted and important. There is ample proof that natural refrigerant based technology can be delivered at lower life cycle cost than HFC based technology.
Education. Everyone concerned with HVACR use needs to understand the problem and the solution. That is just about everyone. But particularly the specifiers, suppliers and contractors that design and install HVACR systems in all sectors: domestic, commercial and industrial.
This is an enormous educational task involving hundreds of thousands of people and organisations in Australia in concert with a global agreement.
But the starting point is understanding the problem: the enormous contribution of total HVACR emissions if we don't stop using HFC refrigerants and we don't focus on the energy efficiency in HVACR systems design. Until the industry at large faces up to total HVACR emissions we will not recognise the opportunity made available by natural refrigerants in energy efficient building and production systems.