Readers outside of Europe may be forgiven for thinking that the European policymakers have got something against the cooling industry. Just look at all the legislation and standards-setting underway that are directed squarely at refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pumps.

The F-gas regulation has enshrined stricter rules about refrigerants largely because of concern about the industry's ability to reduce direct emissions from their systems. But the next swath of important legislation — the Ecodesign directive comes more from the European Commission's general desire to reduce energy across the continent.

The work on Ecodesign standards that are set to change the world for European refrigeration cabinets and counters were started back in 2009, so it is coincidental that the pressure seems to be falling on the cooling industry all at once. But it does give those involved in manufacturing and supply of cabinets quite a headache to deal with.

In the simplest terms, the regulation aims at putting an energy label onto commercial and professional cabinets, in the same way that domestic refrigerators are labeled.

The draft Ecodesign regulation will see labels and minimum energy-performance standards (MEPS) for refrigerated commercial display cabinets applied between 2017 and 2021, depending on their type. A draft working document has now been published by the EC on the energy labeling. This follows a series of studies and working groups by the EC's Joint Research Centre and stakeholders from the supply chain.

The work aims for a more level playing field between different types of cabinets. It became clear through research that cabinets have wide variations in their energy consumption, and the likes of bottle coolers cannot be treated in the same way as chillers.

Among the recommendations are that frozen and chilled cabinets and upright and horizontal should all be treated separately when being labeled, but that there should not be any further subsegmentation of cabinet type. Open cabinets and enclosed cabinets are not treated separately, and neither are integral and remote cabinets.

Also, beverage coolers and ice cream freezers should not be compared to other types of commercial cabinets, and they should be compared on volume rather than total display area (TDA). At the same time, ice cream serveries and vending machines should be assessed separately from other commercial cabinets.

However, according to U.K. research group RD&T, there are still significant gray areas in the test standard to be used for labeling, because the standard is not explicitly stated. The regulation states: "Calculations shall be made using harmonized standards, the reference numbers of which have been published for this purpose in the Official Journal of the European Union, or using other reliable, accurate and reproducible methods that take into account the generally recognized state-of-the-art methods."

The RD&T researchers also see further problems ahead because the definitions of temperature are pretty loose. The only definitions refer to "chilled operating temperature" for products stored in the compartment or cabinet as being continuously maintained between minus-1 and 15 degrees C, and "frozen operating temperature" for products stored in the compartment or cabinet as being continuously maintained below minus-12 C.

"It seems surprising that 15 degrees C is selected as the maximum temperature for chillers as this will grossly exceed temperature safety regulations," said Judith Evans, lead researcher for RD&T.

The energy label is calculated from an energy efficiency index (EEI), where an average cabinet should have an EEI of 100 and would be classified as a D-rated cabinet, in the middle of the A to G range.

The EEI is calculated according to a formula that takes account the following

  • the annual energy consumption of the cabinet
  • its energy consumption over a 24-hour period at 25 degrees C and 60 percent relative humidity
  • the volume or display area of the case
  • an additional factor depending on the particular type of case

The EEIs proposed from Jan. 1, 2017, are as shown below (the G class will be removed in 2019 and E and F in 2021):

Courtesy of RD&T

As well as providing the EEI for a particular cabinet, all manufacturers must also supply additional product information (as part of a product fiche and technical documentation). Manufacturers are, however, allowed to use a "representative cabinet" to represent other cabinets within a range. This is a modification on the original proposal, which expected each individual model of cabinet to be tested and which naturally caused alarm among companies making hundreds of different iterations of cabinets.

Another key element of the regulation is that as of Jan. 1, 2019, manufacturers will also need to provide information on how they will recycle their cabinets.

At the same time, the EC has published the latest information on ecodesign requirements for professional refrigerated storage cabinets, blast cabinets, condensing units and process chillers effectively anything not used to "serve" or "display," but also excluding continuous blast chillers and, significantly, excluding nonvapor compression refrigeration. These requirements apply from July 1, 2016.

For this category, one key element is that the initially proposed requirement for restrictions on direct emissions has been removed on the basis that F-gas regulations are already controlling this but all manufacturers must list the refrigerant on the energy label.

Again, manufacturers should provide information on disassembly, recycling or disposal of cabinets. But there is still concern in the industry about the proposed definitions.

"Net volume is defined as 'the volume containing foodstuffs within the load limit,' which is still unclear and vague," Evans said.

As with many of the rules coming out of Brussels, the Ecodesign requirements have a worthy aim driving refrigeration manufacturers to reduce energy consumption by making each cabinet's efficiency public and letting market forces decide.

But once again, a lot of work remains to ensure that the industry standards are black and white. Readers in the display cabinet or refrigerated storage industry selling into Europe would do well to keep a weather eye on these ecodirectives.