Refrigerant Reclaim Australia general manager, Kylie Farrelley, explains why World Refrigeration Day (June 26) should remind everyone of the essential role of refrigeration to making it through the coronavirus pandemic.
While most of us were forced to retreat to our own homes as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, some industries were forced to close down completely, while others had to tread water and hang on for dear life. However, there is one industry that was not only integral for Australia and the world surviving through the pandemic but also vital to the planet’s future: the refrigeration industry.
Refrigeration impacts almost every sector of both private daily life and business, from manufacturing and offices to telecommunications and healthcare, and it is because of the refrigeration industry that the world has been able to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. And with other threats that the planet continues to face, it is an industry which continues to grow and evolve, and will play an even bigger role in our future.
From the bushfires to COVID-19, the challenges that Australia faced during 2020 have highlighted just how important getting food to stores and on to people truly is. We are only able to get through trying times as a society thanks to the cold food chain - a temperature-controlled supply chain responsible for getting fresh produce from producers and then transported to the retail and hospitality sectors.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, many people were no longer able to freely visit supermarkets and shops, and home deliveries via refrigerated vans became essential to service the elderly and vulnerable and those forced into self-isolation to minimise their risk of exposure to the virus. And the refrigeration industry also empowers a wide range of other areas of everyday life - some many which you may not even think about.
During the global pandemic, the healthcare industry is an area that has understandably been put under considerable strain. Refrigeration is used by medical professionals to preserve pharmaceutical products and medicines, especially vaccines which are made, stored and transported in temperature-controlled environments, and is playing an integral role in the search for a COVID-19 vaccine. To cope with the drastic death rate from the coronavirus around the world, refrigeration trucks and refrigerated shipping containers are also being used as temporary morgues to cope with the overflow from hospitals.
And then there’s the internet. With many forced to work and study from home during the COVID-19 lockdown, the internet became more important than ever to keep businesses and the economy operational. While it’s not something you might automatically link with refrigeration, the internet runs on servers which live in refrigerated data centres. Deprived of refrigeration, these data centres - and the internet - would collapse within minutes, which would have drastic consequences world-wide.
Even outside of the effects of the pandemic, the refrigeration industry as a whole is big business and it’s projected to get even bigger. Over 298,000 Australians currently work in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning industry alone, and refrigeration is employed in numerous industrial processes such as chemicals, plastics and natural gas liquefaction (LNG).
Then there are all the other stakeholders employed in the refrigeration sector, including producers, installers, engineers and technicians responsible for equipment servicing and maintenance. These people all play a major role in ensuring the ongoing operation of refrigeration equipment, which is particularly essential in areas like hospitals, nursing homes and food retailers.
While the refrigeration industry may have once been viewed as a contributor to polluting the globe, these days it’s one that works very hard to help tackle environmental issues and contributes positively to finding sustainable energy solutions.
In the earliest years of refrigeration, companies used large compressors and gases that took up space, were very noisy and contained ozone depleting gases. Technology has come a long way since then, and significant advancements have led to the development of safer and more efficient gases. Compressors have not only become cheaper to run, with larger and more complex systems, but the gases that are now used are not only safer for the environment, but much more efficient and versatile in their applications.
Modern refrigeration technology has helped the environment in other ways. It has improved the cold food chain, which not only reduces post-harvest losses, but also means less food wastage, which then means less food needs to be produced and transported, resulting in lower emissions.
The food manufacturing industry is also moving towards fresh-processed produce with a longer shelf life. With companies developing foods that can survive for weeks in cold storage and remain fresh the entire time, the need for suitable storage units is growing.
We see supermarkets and processing facilities growing to extraordinary sizes, more refrigerants being required for cabinets and systems, and the consumer’s growing appetite for more packaged and storable foods. If the technology wasn’t evolving with this growing market, we would see ongoing restrictions in supply and possible shortages, much like those witnessed during COVID-19 panic buying.
No doubt about it, refrigeration and air conditioning are an integral part of our global future. As temperatures continue to rise globally, human survival will become even more reliant on refrigeration. Three billion people already live in regions of the world where air conditioning is needed more than 300 days of the year, and refrigeration plays a key role in economic and social development - especially in the world’s emerging economies.
In May 2018, the International Energy Agency predicted the global stock of building air conditioning units would rise from 1.6 billion to 5.6 billion by 2050. As well as being used to maintain livable temperatures for people, refrigerants will also be increasingly used to transport and maintain essential foods and products such as vaccines and medicines.
And we all can play a role in ensuring a more sustainable future when it comes to refrigerants. The Australian refrigeration industry continues to adopt new technologies, with lower emissions products and services available, so it is up to us as consumers to not only use these technologies, but also to choose the most sustainable energy options.
In Australia, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning use just under one quarter of the country’s generated electricity - imagine if this was all powered by renewable energy. Using new technology can not only help the environment, but also save you money.
There are new heat pump dryers, hot water systems and pool heaters available with proven technologies that can deliver cost savings with payback periods of around five years. And if you’re having an appliance fixed or installed, always make sure you use a licensed technician. By embracing these cutting-edge technologies, we can not only ensure humanity thrives, but also help shape a more sustainable future for the planet at the same time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kylie FARRELLEY - General Manager, Refrigerant Reclaim Australia
Kylie Farrelley has 20 years’ experience in the Refrigeration & Air Conditioning Industry. For the past 12 years she has been an active participant in several Industry Associations, including Refrigerants Australia & Refrigerant Reclaim Australia. Kylie was appointed General Manager of Refrigerant Reclaim Australia in May 2019.