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Down Under eyes top spot

Australia has been making news in the HVACR industry for all the right reasons, from new efficiency-rating tools to a stringent regulatory framework, especially to improve the retrofit sector – a model worth replicating in the Middle East region. Australia’s success lies in its desire to create an environmentally friendly and energy-efficient society.

| | Jun 27, 2016 | 4:13 pm
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Australia has been a strong contender among countries to reach its green targets via energy efficiency for quite some time now, vying to prove its prowess in innovation, regulation and general awareness. This is also because of a necessity becoming a virtue – energy requirements are very high in Australia. Fulfilling it entails focus on energy efficiency, design sustainability and the reduction of greenhouse gases, which, in turn, requires the HVACR industry to necessarily stay within the country’s stringent guidelines.

Rules rule

According to the Department of Industry, Innovations and Sciences, Australian Government, the aim of continuously improving the HVAC efficiency can only be brought about through strict regulations and implementing environmentally friendly and energy-efficient products.¹

The import of HCFCs has reportedly seen a decline, from 70 ODP tonnes in 2010-2011 to 10 ODP tonnes in 2014-2015

Echoing this, Gregory Picker says, “The refrigeration and air conditioning industry is caught by different sets of legislation and policy.” Picker is Technical and Policy Advisor for AREMA (Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Equipment Manufacturers Association), an Australian body that looks after both importers and manufacturers of refrigeration and air conditioning equipment. (For details on safety regulations see Box: Iron-clad rules)

The Australian government has also been working towards achieving the zero ozone depleting potential (ODP) refrigerants. Although the country’s present demand for power is high, manufacturers are constantly made aware of the new zero ODP refrigerants, say industry insiders. The phasing out of all substances that deplete the ozone layer appears to be an ongoing and active process in the industry. Marcus Bradson, Technical Manager at New South Wales, Australia-based Trilogy Services, explains: “Australia has been the frontrunner for the phasing out of the most ODP refrigerants in the past decade. In the past decade, complying with The Montreal Protocol and The Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act, 1989, the industries, and cooperative partnership between the community and all levels of government, have all contributed the same towards achieving this goal.”

Iron-clad rules

Gregory Picker, Technical and Policy Advisor for AREMA (Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Equipment Manufacturers Association), throws light on regulations governing refrigerant safety in Australia…

“The Department of the Environment focuses on refrigerants, particularly HFCs, whereas, the Department of Industry focuses on energy efficiency. Issues of safety – both for workers and consumers – are left to the states. Perhaps, the best bit of the Australian system is that to buy, sell or use HCFC or HFC refrigerants, you need to have a licence. The licence is only given if the person has the right training and the necessary gear to maintain systems. The Australian Refrigeration Council – created and owned by the industry – is responsible for the licencing. The other absolutely essential element is that Australia has banned disposable cylinders. “We [AREMA] spend most of our time working with governments on policy/regulatory issues (energy efficiency, refrigerants, ozone, climate change, etc.) and industry bodies looking after technical issues (standards, codes, training needs, etc.). “Our minimum efficiency standards vary from product type to product type, but roughly speaking, they are similar to those in Europe or the United States, just with a short delay.”

Stats don’t lie

Australia has evidently made a strong statement in its commitment towards environmental protection with its efforts in reducing the ODP refrigerants. According to a recent report released by the Department of Environment, Australian Government, the country has met or even exceeded all of its phase-out obligations. The report goes on to share the information that use and import of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) has seen a major decline, and that by 2016, HCFCs will be largely phased out – almost four years ahead of the schedule required under the Montreal Protocol. The import of HCFCs has reportedly seen a decline, from 70 ODP tonnes in 2010-2011 to 10 ODP tonnes in 2014-2015.

Speaking about the use of an alternative to R-22 refrigerant, Bradson says: “The industry is already transitioning away from R-22, since the phasing out of this refrigerant is imminent in the near future. The HVAC industries, especially, are opting for other alternatives.” Reflecting what is stated in the Department of Environment report, Bradson adds, “The remainder of the R-22 systems will rely on recycled or reclaimed refrigerants, since other refrigerants with lesser ODPs are becoming more available.” One can surmise that the Australian government, with its stringent policies and co-operative network, is hoping to create a green ethos in the R segment of the HVACR sector.

Australia has witnessed an upswing in the construction market, which is supposed to grow from 0.9% in 2014 to a more dynamic performance during 2015-2016, with the non-residential building sector expected to profit more. The burgeoning construction market has witnessed a parallel growth in the HVAC sector. As per the Euroconstruct Report, 2013, all segments of the HVAC sector will see growth, given that there is a stable economic framework.

Underlining this and drawing attention to the IBIS World report, Bradson says, “The recent IBIS report has confirmed that there is a substantial growth in the HVAC market from 8.9% to an estimated 11.3% in the past five years.” IBIS is an organisation that provides industrial growth insights.

Vying for the HVAC pie

What’s new?

Australia has developed the world’s first HVAC efficiency rating tool, which is expected to have a profound impact on the reduction of energy use in Australia. “It is a great initiative, which not only encourages manufacturers but also makes the consumers aware that there is a problem out there, and we need to act accordingly,” says Marcus Bradson, Technical Manager at Trilogy Services. The tool purportedly aims to provide a dynamic assessment to rate and reward and, most importantly, encourage best practices in HVAC systems.

With such growth potential, the HVAC market has become extremely competitive, leading to mounting pressure on manufacturers to provide customers with effective equipment design at a faster rate. Innovation is a crucial strategy deployed in this race to out-do competitors, say market observers. It is not surprising, therefore, that low installation cost, high efficiency, high output, fan power, low noise and low energy cost are on top of the manufacturers’ checklist.

Pointing towards cheap imports entering a competitive landscape and their effect on the overall industry revenue, Bradson reveals, “There has been a high and steady competition from imports over the years, which has led to even outsourcing production to Asian and Middle East Countries.”

Is retrofitting the way forward?

Australia made headlines, when, under the authority of HVAC HESS (High Efficiency Systems Strategy), an organisation concerned with improving the HVAC efficiency, a commercial building in 4 Mort Street, Canberra, was retrofitted. The results of the endeavour were staggeringly impressive, and highlighted the importance of retrofit projects vis-à-vis the HVAC industry. The results included:

• Improvement from 2.4 to 4 NABERS (National Australian Built Environment Rating System) stars
• Improved system monitoring through installation of BMS (Building Management System)
• Annual cost saving of USD 120,000
• Increase in asset value, estimated at USD 1.4 million
• 70% reduction in annual greenhouse gas emissions equal to 786 tonnes of CO2 emissions

A little-known link in the cold chain

James Harrison, an Australian of Scottish descent, considered a pioneer in the refrigeration industry, is said to have provided a breakthrough in the air conditioning world, by inventing the first mechanical ice-making machine in 1851. Using a compressor on the refrigerant gas, and allowing the compressed gas to pass through a condenser which was liquefied, he cooled the surrounding system. Employing this technique, frozen meat started sailing across different continents.

Given the copious energy consumption levels in Australia, the gains in energy efficiency and cost management that can be achieved via retrofitting of HVAC systems are dramatic. “In any given building, HVAC represents an average 52% of the total energy consumed by that building,” says Peter Bush, CEO of Aeris Environmental. Bush believes that the upgrading of air conditioners and refrigeration systems provides the single biggest opportunity for Australia to achieve large-scale reductions in carbon emissions. Bush adds, “The retrofitting of HVAC and refrigeration systems can not only dramatically reduce energy consumption and related utility bills but also improve the indoor air quality.” While the 4 Mort Street project admittedly entailed major overhauls, Bush believes that even simple retrofits of existing air conditioning and refrigeration equipment can yield considerable benefits.

Although green retrofits have been focusing on high efficiency and cost management, Bush points out to the reality that there is a long way to go, with a staggering 42.26 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. Admittedly, the GWP (Global Warming Potential) is still very high. However, there is a definite push to phase out such substances in the coming years.

Net profit

Highlighting the role Net Zero Energy Building (nZEB) could play, Bradson says: “The upcoming trend in both commercial and residential sectors are the nZEB. The government needs to consider this option and develop policies around it.”

To conclude…

According to the Department of Industry, Australian Government, “The contribution of electricity to total residential energy consumption is predicted to increase from 46% in 1990 to 53% in 2020. Natural gas consumption is also expected to increase from 30% of total energy consumption in 1990 to 37% in 2020.”²

In light of this, stringent government regulations backed by public awareness and, consequently, a rise in demand for energy-efficient products has been the key driving force spurring manufacturers to come up with specialised technology for more efficient HVACR equipment. The clamour is for new system design and cost-effective solutions. And Australia, with its long experience in and knowledge of the District Energy infrastructure systems and HVACR equipment, has a competitive edge, and has found favour with distributors, contractors and system builders beyond Australia. An added advantage is that almost all products from Australia fulfil the GCC requirements and specifications.

In the final analysis, there is, of course, always room for improvement. Conceding that there are some grey areas that need to be sorted out in the industry, Bradson says, “There is still a lot to learn and even more to do.”


References: 

  1. http://www.industry.gov.au/Energy/EnergyEfficiency/Non-residentialBuildings/HVAC/Pages/Measures.aspx
  1. http://www.industry.gov.au/Energy/EnergyEfficiency/Non-residentialBuildings/HVAC/FactSheets/Pages/RetrofitMortStreetCaseStudy.aspx

(The writer is the Features Writer of Climate Control Middle East.)


Carousel image credits: structuresxx / Shutterstock.com


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