There has been a significant slowdown in refrigerant use in Australia falling from a 4.3 per cent compound annual growth rate in the period 2006 to 2016 to just 1.8 per cent in the three years 2016 to 2019.
Slower growth in the metric tonnes of refrigerant has been driven by a softening of refrigeration and air conditioning (RAC) equipment sales in 2018 and 2019 across nearly all major equipment segments, according to the latest edition of Cold Hard Facts 2020.
While the drop is in line with softer economic conditions, the report also points to market saturation in some smaller air conditioning segments.
“Slower growth in the bank of refrigerants is also a product of new equipment designs that require smaller charge sizes to deliver equivalent refrigeration services,” the report said.
This is the fifth edition of the research series which is produced by the Expert Group and commissioned by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
The report has identified a number of key trends impacting Australia’s climate control industry.
It estimates the ‘cooling economy’, broadly defined as the total of all goods and services that involve the employment of vapour compression refrigeration and heat exchange systems, is worth more than $41 billion.
“Direct spending on hardware, consumables and energy, plus employment in the sector, is estimated at more than $41 billion, or around 2.1 per cent of Australian gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019,” the report said.
“Refrigeration and Air Conditioning (RAC) services in Australia in 2019 were delivered by more than 57.2 million pieces of equipment (CHF3 2016, 53.6 million) employing a refrigerant bank of more than 53,000 tonnes.
“The stock model calculated that in 2019 Australians spent around $8.3 billion purchasing and installing new devices across all classes of RAC equipment.”
This equipment is estimated to have consumed more than 64.8 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity in 2019, or more than 24 per cent of all electricity produced in Australia that year.
The report also found single split systems sales including wall hung, cassette, consoles and ducted systems have declined from the all-time peak hit in 2017 of 1.3 million units per annum. Single split system sales in 2019 are estimated at 1.17 million, comprising 1.01 million non-ducted split systems and 156,000 split ducted systems.
There were a further 36,000 sales of multi split systems, excluding variable refrigerant volume/frequency (VRV/F) systems and more than 200,000 small self-contained AC including window/wall units and portable AC.
This is the second year in a row of sales of around 1.2 million for small and medium stationary AC units, resulting in an estimated total installed stock in Australia of around 13.2 million Small AC and 2.9 million Medium AC devices.
Cold Hard Facts 2020 found the adoption of natural refrigerants, particularly in self-contained commercial refrigeration, is displacing traditional hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbon (HFCs) applications - even while the stock of equipment is growing.
“Adoption of HFC-32 as a lower GWP alternative to HFC-410A in non-ducted split system stationary air conditioning (AC) segments is now a well-established trend, creating a sizeable and fast-growing bank of HFC-32 while capping the growth of the HFC-410A share of the bank,” according to Cold Hard Facts.
“HFC-32 is also starting to make an appearance in larger AC applications including split ducted systems and chillers with charges seen in the market up to 78 kilograms (kg).
“Trends observed in 2016 and 2018 of growth in the adoption of natural refrigerants and hydrofluoro‑olefin/HFC (HFO/HFC) blends have been confirmed in 2019 with hydrocarbon charges smaller than 150 grams in refrigerated display cabinets being a stand-out example of the rapid rate of change in the sector.”
The report found HFO/HFC blends are starting to be employed in larger commercial refrigeration cases with charge sizes observed up to 3 kg.
There is some evidence that HFO-1234yf is starting to make a contribution to the transition away from HFC-134a in the automotive mobile air conditioning (MAC) bank however change is still slow with an estimate of less than five per cent of the 945,000 new vehicles imported into Australia in 2019 containing HFOs, the report said.
Despite a concerted move by major supermarket chains to deploy trans-critical carbon dioxide (CO2) charged refrigeration systems, the refrigerated cold food chain maintained refrigerant demand for service and charges for new equipment of more than 800 tonnes of HFC-404A with a total of 822 tonnes used in 2019.
“This level of demand has been very consistent over the last four years,” the report said.
“These trends are contributing to slower growth in the regulated bank between 2016 and 2019. This is expected to continue in the decade ahead.
“As predicted in earlier editions of Cold Hard Facts, these trends and the evidence suggests that the peak carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) value of the bank has likely been reached in the last 12 months.”
While pure HFOs have not taken as much market share as predicted in the last few years, HFO/HFC blends have begun to be deployed in the market with an estimated 38 tonnes used in 2019.
While it is early days in the acceptance of HFO/HFC blends in the market, their adoption in some populous classes of equipment, such as the use of R448A, R449A, R450A, R452A, R455A and possibly others in commercial refrigeration applications, is a trend that will be watched closely in subsequent editions of Cold Hard Facts.
HFO/HFC blends observed in chillers in Australia were R513A and R515A.
The volumes of CO2 refrigerant used, primarily in the supermarket sector, are increasing from a low base and are now estimated at around 215 tonnes in 2019, the report said.
“Ammonia is also finding broader application outside the large cold storage distribution centres and industrial chillers where it has been traditionally used,” according to the report. “In recent years applications deployed in Australia include ammonia chillers and low charge ammonia chiller packages.
“Ammonia volumes are generally driven by large capital works and ongoing maintenance of existing systems with yearly volumes fluctuating accordingly; the six-year average annual use is estimated at almost 700 tonnes.”