Five low-hanging fruit of HVAC&R

The time has come to herald the sustainability solutions offered by HVAC&R, rather than focus on its challenges. That’s the message from Andrea Voigt, Director General of the European Partnership for Energy and the Environment (EPEE).

As Europe swelters through one of its hottest summers on record, cooling in the form of air conditioning is making headlines in mainstream media. Usually these stories highlight the problems around the additional demand.

“All the negative points are being picked up, focusing on the rising energy needs and the emissions related to the cooling,” says Voigt. “They omit the fact that this industry has a lot of solutions available. So we think it’s really important to be more vocal about the benefits of our industry and the things that we can make happen.”

Voigt was in Australia earlier this year as part of the Future:Air roadshow. She provided an update on the HFC phase-down in Europe and wider changes in the industry worldwide.

Exaggerated focus on refrigerants?

Voigt says that the HFC phase-down has raised the level of awareness of refrigerants and their global warming potential (GWP). However, she also notes that this may have diverted attention from a more pressing issue: energy efficiency.

“My message would be, ‘Don’t forget about the energy efficiency and the overall emissions as you transition away from high-GWP refrigerants’,” Voigt says. “There is no doubt that refrigerants are very important. If they are not addressed we know that, depending on the GWP, it will have a very negative impact. But on the other hand, it’s just a part of the puzzle – and the smaller part of the puzzle.”

Good news for HVAC&R

In her presentations in Australia, Voigt provided five prime examples of where HVAC&R can make a major difference.

  • Minimising temperature lift. Voigt says that a large delta T can have a huge impact on energy use. It can be minimised through good product design, temperature set-points, correct refrigerant charge size, and regular maintenance.
  • Maintenance. “It’s often underestimated and it’s not very sexy to talk about maintenance in order to achieve energy savings,” Voigt says. “Nevertheless, it has a really big impact, and it should be much more at the forefront of all the different activities.”
  • Performance at part load. Voigt notes that HVAC&R systems are typically designed for peak load, but operate for more than 90 per cent of the time on part load. Europe’s new Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) specifically mentions the need to look at efficiency for part-load conditions.
  • Leak tightness. Refrigerant leakage doesn’t only have an impact on the refrigerant itself, but also in terms of the efficiency of the installation. There is the cost of topping up refrigerant, but also the cost of running a system that requires more energy, and may eventually break down.
  • Refrigerants. As well as moving to lower-GWP refrigerants, Voigt notes other measures. These include reducing charge size, designing for leak tightness, and refrigerant recovery, recycling and reclaim.

Inspiring change

Despite these measures being clear and within reach, Voigt says that something is still lacking to galvanise the industry and the user base.

“There are great opportunities, they are just not taken,” she says.

“For example, if I look at Europe, at the EPBD it’s all there. It looks at the technical building systems, at optimisation of part-load conditions, building automation and control, the inspections. But it’s not recognised or people don’t know enough about it or they don’t see the benefits.”

Voigt says the big question is how to make it happen.

“Standards can play a role,” she says “We have a new European set of standards for buildings, but are they used in all European member states? No. Why not? Lack of awareness, reluctance, because they have their own standards. It’s all there, it’s ready to be rolled out, the products are available. You wonder what it needs to kick it off.

“It’s not rocket science and you can achieve a lot by doing it. From our association, but possibly also the manufacturers themselves and the government, there should be much more communication about those opportunities because otherwise it just doesn’t happen.”

On top of better communication, Voigt says other business models, such as cooling and heating as a service, may offer a way forward. Another initiative would be to reward users for switching off their equipment or lowering their use during periods of peak demand. But despite the technology being available, these systems have not yet been implemented.

“In the EPEE we are discussing these challenges to really describe them and to think about ways to make it happen,” she says. “Everything is there – framework, products and so on – but you need that spark.”

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