Global HFC agreement is historic, but now the work really starts
Thursday, October 20, 2016
Let me start by saying well done to all those from outside of Europe who were involved in the historic agreement in Kigali, Rwanda, to phase down HFCs around the world. The choice of the word "monumental" by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was an apt one.
But looking at the view from Europe, many in this industry are a bit miffed at all the publicity over here — where we have been tackling the many and varied challenges of phasedown since the new F-Gas regulations came into force in January 2015.
On the morning after the global agreement was signed over in the U.K., we woke up to the unprecedented event of all our news bulletins leading with a story on refrigeration. At that point, more than a few of us in the cooling industry were saying to ourselves: "They never did that for the signing of F-Gas."
So, folks in the U.S. should be congratulated for making it a big enough deal to be promoted by senior politicians. I guess Hillary Clinton, who effectively kicked off the HFC reduction campaign with her Climate and Clean Air Coalition back in 2012, had other things on her plate this year. Instead, Kerry came in for his whistlestop tour of Rwanda ahead of going to Syria.
By contrast, I can't recall any senior politician from the U.K. giving F-Gas any public mention. We did have one of our MPs announcing a Refrigeration Task Force a couple of years ago, but it didn't achieve anything — allegedly because there weren't enough "government achieves energy reductions" headlines to be gained from it. And for ex-Prime Minister David Cameron, his claims to create the "greenest government ever" were soon abandoned to the forces of the market.
But returning to the Kigali agreement, the hard work now is to work out exactly what the phasedown will mean in industry terms — which refrigerants will be available to replace the HFCs; which standards will be required to allow that to happen; and for developing countries particularly, what training will need to be established to ensure engineers can perform appropriate conversions and installations.
I don't think anyone believes sub-Saharan Africa will be moving to CO2 refrigeration anytime soon, but the future clearly will require use of mildly flammable refrigerants in the form of HFOs and R32, as well as flammable ones like hydrocarbons. Thus, procedures will need to be put in place.
I have just returned from the Chillventa exhibition in Germany, and one of the prevailing themes there was that energy efficiency should not be sacrificed in the rush to lower GWP — because reducing energy can save a lot more carbon than changing refrigerant. That has implications both for operating with the new refrigerants themselves and for the systems that use them.
Another of the key themes was a general concern that end users are simply not taking on board the realities of F-Gas, which — let's not forget — will usher in a series of bans on refrigerants like R404A. That is clearly an aspect that all those involved in the Kigali agreement will need to think through.
Once you have established that a change in industry practice is necessary, how exactly do you make the customers make that change? Especially if it is going to cost them money, they will be reticent, without some pretty direct messages — or perhaps more direct legislation.
I look forward to hearing how you get on with tackling that question.
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