If heat pumps aren’t an HFC quota issue, what is?

The recent report on heat pumps released by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) looked to answer an important question. Would the increased uptake of heat pumps as a result of electrification jeopardise Australia’s HFC phase-down target? The answer it gave was a solid “no”.

But although the report may have put those concerns to bed, it has also thrown light onto areas where more attention is required in reducing the GWP intensity of our HFC bank – now and into the future.

Minimal risk

Peter Brodibb, M.AIRAH, is Managing Director of Expert Group, the authors of the report. He confirms that despite rocketing sales of heat pumps in Australia, the risk to the HFC phase-down is minimal.

“For domestic hot water heat pumps (HWHP), Australia was installing less than 20,000 pieces per annum from 2017 to 2019,” he says. “In 2022, that jumped to 100,000, and by 2036 – the end point for Australia’s HFC phase down – we are projecting around 500,000 pieces.

“But all of these are self-contained, and most will eventually use hydrocarbons rather than HFCs.”

Brodribb notes, however, that measures should be taken to ensure that the products are up to scratch.

“Several of the large suppliers operating in the state-based energy efficiency schemes that account for more than 50 per cent of sales are focused on chasing the rebates,” he says. “They have a ‘free giveaway’ business model, or at least a very low co-contribution cost of $200 to $300 by the consumer. Whereas suppliers of quality equipment may charge the consumer around $1,500 for supply and installation.

“This business model encourages suppliers to source the lowest cost and lowest quality products from second- and third-tier manufacturing companies in Asia, predominately China, which is a major concern for unsuspecting consumers.”

Split imperative

The move away from gas will also see greater demand for air-to-air heat pumps, such as split systems. It should be noted that under Australia’s phase-down rules, HFCs imported in pre-charged equipment are not counted in the quota. Bulk refrigerant used to service equipment is included, but the report found that this is not expected to be a major issue.

“Australia currently imports around a million split systems a year, or around 1.3 million including split ducted and local manufacturing,” says Brodribb, “and that is projected to increase. But even if all gas ducted heaters switched over to heat pumps, it’s only adding about 7 per cent. If we allow for a compound growth rate of more than 4 per cent to the end of the projection period (2036), we’re looking at about 2.2 million units a year, which still won’t cause problems with the HFC quota.”

Interestingly, the modelling shows that the historical air conditioning equipment classes, commercial refrigeration and mobile air conditioning pose far greater risks, and greater opportunities for Australia to reduce high GWP refrigerant usage to meet its Montreal Protocol commitments.

For heat pumps, the report flags that one of the biggest risks is at end of life. In Australia, there is no national legislative approach to the end-of-life disposal and recycling of heat pumps, air conditioning equipment and refrigeration equipment.

The full report, Heat pumps – Emerging trends in the Australian market, is available at the DCCEEW website.

Photo by Suleyman Seykan

One Reply to “If heat pumps aren’t an HFC quota issue, what is?

  1. Rather than worrying about the quota, it would be better to be concerned for the planet.
    if the govt had guts they would set a time limit to ban all R410 units say by the start of 2024,
    & ban R134a by 2025, & R32 by 2026.
    IT would lead to higher quality units requiring less waste, more efficiency & lower emissions

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