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‘The industry now has an opportunity to innovate and move forward’

The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), in collaboration with ASHRAE, the US Department of Energy (DoE), the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, the California Air Resources Board and Johnson Controls, is engaged in a multi-million-dollar research programme to establish a strong case for the use of flammable refrigerants, as part of global efforts to phase down the use of high-GWP refrigerants and identify climate-friendly alternatives. AHRI attended the 28th Meeting of the Parties to Montreal Protocol in October in Kigali, Rwanda, during which an agreement was reached to include HFC refrigerants in the Protocol’s (treaty’s) purview. AHRI for long has supported the inclusion of HFCs under the treaty. B Surendar of Climate Control Middle East spoke to AHRI President, Steve Yurek in the aftermath of the watershed Kigali meeting.

| | Dec 26, 2016 | 4:20 pm
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Steve Yurek

Steve Yurek

While the Paris Agreement is voluntary, the Kigali deal includes specific targets and timetables to replace HFCs with more environment-friendly alternatives, as well as enact trade sanctions on nations that do not comply. And the fact that the global phase-down of production and consumption of HFCs has come under the purview of the Montreal Protocol seems like great news, especially because the body successfully eradicated over 100 HCFCs. In fact, expectations have soared, and many are saying the Montreal Protocol has an obligation to contribute to the Paris Agreement with concrete action. That’s a lot of pressure. But how excited are you by the development?
I am very pleased with the adoption of the amendment. It’s something that AHRI and the industry have been working for seven years now to cover HFCs in the Montreal Protocol versus in the Kyoto and Paris agreements, because we saw how successful the Montreal Protocol was in phasing out ODP substances. The true enforcement mechanisms that are in place in the Montreal Protocol, the predictability it gives to the businesses to conduct research and commit to making products is very useful. Earlier, we have had a piecemeal approach, be it with the F-gas Regulations, Japan or Australia, under which it was difficult to develop products. The industry now has an opportunity to innovate and develop products and move forward.

Considering that there are 22 known HFCs, has the Kigali Meet paved the way to comprehensively address all of them? I ask because it is generally believed that failure to include all HFCs in an agreement will result in problems associated with monitoring and compliance.
Yes, the way the amendment is written, it does recognise HFCs, putting a baseline on consumption and a baseline on reduction. This is a phase down, and not a step towards zero. That means, HFCs will still be used; however, we will be seeing if this is the best way forward, so we have to make sure it addresses CO2e and energy efficiency.

You had spoken immediately after the Kigali meet that you felt the freeze dates and step-down levels to be ambitious? Could you please elaborate?
If you look at the freeze dates and the step-down levels for the United States and Europe, we have till 2029, so we will be reducing by 70% over 13 years. That means a lot of changes in not only the equipment but also the training that will be necessary, because the refrigerants we are going to be replacing are non-flammable, while the new ones will have a certain flammability and, hence, the need for safe operation. It’s really about the entire industry – the manufacturers, the installers… everybody. And the training to use the refrigerant safely is important. That’s why I see the freeze dates and step-down levels as being ambitious. It might seem long, but we have to remember that we had a 30-year step-down period for ozone-depleting substances in A2 countries. We are doing the same thing with HFCs now, but we are shortening the time period, so yes, it is ambitious.

The basic structure is there, and if a country does not meet an obligation there are trade implications

What are the low-GWP alternatives we are talking of? What is the way forward, considering that it is not only the climate we need to protect but also the broader environment? How can we take a holistic approach?
The way the system is set up is not to shortchange anything. The ISO and ASHRAE standards committees are collecting information to set charge limits and to set mitigating factors required to ensure these refrigerants can be used safely in not only manufacturing but also in operation. Our research is to help give them the information and data. When it comes to new refrigerants, we are seeing what we need to do in mechanical rooms to mitigate a situation. With the research, we provide information to the experts at the standards writing bodies to come up with a set of criteria on charge limits, etc. Then, manufacturers can design equipment to meet those safety requirements. That’s how we can do it. We need to follow the processes involved.

What are the ramifications of Kigali for the global HVACR industry? Does the outcome offer an opportunity to transform the industry in developing and developed economies?
We have seen a lot of change already. The change the industry will have in terms of technology and the opportunities between now and the first phase-down date is going to be significant. We are going to see big change, and with that arises a need to make sure we do it right. It is not going to be only A2 countries but also A5, and we need to work together. No more will we have the ability to work on our own. It’s about not only using environmentally safe refrigerants; it’s also about not harming the environment by using more energy. It has got to be a holistic approach.

It makes sense to leapfrog interim solutions. The technologies are available to deal with both ozone depletion and climate change

Oftentimes, the issues crop up at the ground level. How can we ensure that imports and exports are controlled with proper licensing and tracking procedures, so that the agreement is not affected by illegal trade practices?
I think the solution is in place, because we are putting the whole thing under the Montreal Protocol. Those safeguards are already there, so to cover HFCs is relatively easy. The basic structure is there, and if a country does not meet an obligation there are trade implications. If any signatories to the protocol are not in compliance, they cannot trade. So there are significant ramifications there. That’s why we wanted to be part of the Montreal Protocol versus Paris, where you don’t have that structure in place, or an enforcement mechanism.

With Kigali, can we take immediate action on HFCs? Can we put an end to the frustratingly protracted action we have seen over the years?
I think it is manageable. It makes sense to leapfrog interim solutions. The technologies are available to deal with both ozone depletion and climate change. We have shown through industry and government that it can be done. TEAP (Technology and Economic Assessment Panel, which is the advisory body to the Montreal Protocol Parties) will be evaluating the situation every five years on where we have progressed, and through that we might be able to accelerate the process. At the same time, we don’t want to do it so fast that there is market disruption leading to a significant cost impact, so that HVACR becomes too expensive for people.

The balance we struck in Rwanda is that an ambitious approach gives you predictability and the time to do it right

What is the clarity we can offer to engineering directors in hotels, hospitals, malls and airports in Article 5 countries when it comes to chiller retrofits? What should be their strategy when it comes to buying chillers? Would you recommend they consider leapfrogging interim solutions with regard to HFCs?
I think I would say, ‘Don’t rush’. Analyse all the facts and make the decisions that suit you, because one size does not fit all. Depending on the facility and where the mechanical room is, you might have an issue or you might not. You need to step back, analyse and ask questions. Engineering consulting firms should advise on what to use, and the time frame, because it is going to be different for each application.

How much has Kigali succeeded in establishing an early baseline for HFCs for A5 countries? I ask because we have seen how in the case of HCFCs, some A5 countries have deliberately inflated the baseline, through a rapid increase in consumption just prior to and during the baselinesetting years? I am talking of the real threat of stockpiling prior to the first control measure? How can we cap the proclivity for excessive consumption?
I think it is the market, and it is going to function the way it is going to function. Those types of activities are very predictable, and have been factored into the baseline dates and freeze-down dates. Of course, if they don’t occur we would be better off.

Do you agree that an ambitious phase-down approach is needed to accelerate the uptake and scale of production of low-GWP technologies?
I would say the balance we struck in Rwanda is that an ambitious approach gives you predictability and the time to do it right. And at the same time, the agreement has a process of technology reviews. If technology is something we have available faster, and if safety issues are taken care of, we can move faster. We want to make sure technology is delivered to meet the needs of citizens round the world.

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