Has Australia hit ‘peak bank’?

A new version of the Cold Hard Facts report reveals that Australia’s HVAC&R sector may have hit “peak bank” for synthetic greenhouse gases (SGGs) in 2019–20.

The total global warming potential (GWP) of the bank of synthetic greenhouse gases employed in refrigerating and air conditioning systems in Australia is predicted to have peaked in 2019–20 at about 102 million tonnes CO2e.

Although the total volume of refrigerants in the bank is expected to continue to rise in the years ahead – reaching more than 60,000 metric tonnes by 2030 – the total GWP of the bank is predicted to decline by more than a quarter to approximately 74 million tonnes CO2e as new generations of lower-GWP refrigerants are introduced.

The report’s authors, Peter Brodribb, M.AIRAH, and Michael McCann of the Expert Group, were confident the trends reported would be confirmed in future reports planned for 2021 and 2022.

“The rapid adoption of lower-GWP HFCs, particularly in small AC systems, the migration of both domestic and some commercial refrigerating systems to natural refrigerants, and the arrival of the new-generation HFO/HFC blends and very low-GWP HFOs is expected to drive down total GWP of the bank,” says Brodribb.

McCann notes that new equipment is also becoming more energy-efficient, and operating on smaller refrigerant charges in systems that are inherently better sealed.

“This means that the overall refrigerating and air conditioning task is become less greenhouse intensive,” he says.

“However, there is a large stock of legacy equipment in the economy, employing a still considerable bank of older generations of high-GWP refrigerants, and consuming more energy than new designs. This stock of equipment would benefit from routine maintenance aimed at reducing energy use and reducing refrigerant leaks.”

The latest Cold Hard Facts report, CHF2020, is the fifth in a series that has become the definitive industry reference for quantifying the scale and importance of HVAC&R in the Australian environment and economy.

CHF2020 estimates that refrigerating and air conditioning systems used nearly 65GWh of electricity in 2019 – more than 24 per cent of all electricity produced in Australia that year.

More than seven million tonnes of CO2e emissions were created by direct losses of about 3,000 metric tonnes of refrigerant gas to air from operating equipment. Another 1,800 metric tonnes of all types of refrigerant is estimated to have been lost from end-of-life equipment. But these were far outweighed by the more than 54 million tonnes of CO2e emissions resulting from the electricity used in the stock of equipment.

Combined direct emissions of refrigerant and indirect emissions created by electricity use means that total greenhouse emissions produced by refrigerating and air conditioning equipment were estimated at more than 11.5 per cent of total Australian emissions in 2019.

“We need to get very good at this,” McCann says. “Higher average temperatures and more long periods of extreme heat days means that cooling requirements are only going to increase. These services have to be delivered reliably without compounding the drivers of climate change.”

To read the report, click here.

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