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The cushion helps, but…

Following the enforcement of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, stakeholders from the international HVACR industry are left having to navigate an increasingly complex refrigerant landscape in view of looming targets. Although for many countries in the Middle East the freeze-date for the import and consumption of HFCs, set at 2028, is some years away, decision-makers reflect on opportunities for future-proofing equipment and buildings, with an eye on managing cost and ensuring safety. Will the extended deadline given to these Article 5 Group 2 countries serve as a cushion for complacency? Or, will the region use the time to get ahead of the curve? Hannah Jo Uy draws key insights from participants of the 3rd edition of Refrigerants Review, held on March 24, in Dubai…

| | Apr 15, 2019 | 12:54 pm
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On January 1, 2019, the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, ratified by 65 countries (as of December 21, 2018), came into effect. The amendment aims to reduce HFCs in air conditioning, refrigeration and other related sectors by more than 80% in the next 30 years. A UN report on this says: “If fully supported by governments, the private sector and citizens, the Kigali Amendment will avoid up to 0.4 degrees C of global warming this century while continuing to protect the ozone layer.”*

James Walters

‘If’ is the operative word in the UN statement. Undoubtedly, there is a growing consensus among the international community on the need for urgency in addressing climate change; however, the ‘right path’ in terms of climate action remains a highly debated topic, especially in certain countries. Classified under the Article 5 Group 2 of the Amendment, Bahrain, India, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were given a 2028 freeze date for the import and consumption of HFCs, four years later than the 2024 deadline given to other developing countries, in recognition of the unique challenges facing these nations. There are concerns, however, on whether the extended deadline will be seen as a cushion, allowing stakeholders to be complacent.

James Walters, Vice President, International Affairs, AHRI, believes that just because Article 5 countries are given the luxury of time doesn’t mean they should wait. “Everyone has to be more diligent,” he says, pointing out that the extension allows stakeholders to explore effective alternative refrigerant solutions that will address the main “triangle of interest” – safety, efficiency and availability. “Don’t make quick decisions hastily without enough information,” he says. “Make better decisions, today.”

Markus Lattner

Dr Nacer Achaichia,

Markus Lattner, Director, Eurovent Middle East, also believes that the industry should take this time to prepare, saying that challenges faced by manufacturers and building owners in Europe in complying with F-Gas Regulation provide valuable experience, which stakeholders in the Middle East region could make use of to do things better. Dr Nacer Achaichia, Technology Director – EMEA, Honeywell, adds that Middle East countries have an incredible opportunity to learn from the mistakes made in Europe, such as its move from R-22 to R-404A, which has a global warming potential (GWP) of 4,000. Dr Achaichia says manufacturers in Europe now have to move away from R-404A, once again, emphasising that Middle East countries must avoid interim solutions and leapfrog to HFOs.

Torben Funder-Kristensen

Torben Funder-Kristensen, Head of Public & Industry Affairs, Danfoss, believes that with all the R&D on commercial integration of low￾GWP refrigerants in the next 4-5 years, the actual phasedown in the Middle East will happen even before the schedule, provided stakeholders implement the necessary educational framework. Lattner says that as a starting point, authorities in the Middle East should prioritise collation of region-specific data on the market situation to better assess existing equipment in circulation and its conditions, in order to be able to better plan for the long- and even medium-term future.

Bottlenecks for transitioning

P R Jagannathan

Bjorn Ostbye

Assuredly, for a more orderly migration in 2028, there is an urgent need for stakeholders in the Middle East to act now. According to the general sentiment in the market, in addition to the environmental implications, there are hidden costs in ignoring the inevitable. P R Jagannathan, Manager – Sustainability, Trakhees PCFC, highlighting the multifaceted nature of transitioning, says that when it comes to the phasedown or phase-out of refrigerants, acceleration is subject to societal, environmental and economic forces. Thus, there is a need for a holistic approach to tackle the issue, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Bjorn Ostbye, Project Development Manager, Lulu Hypermarkets Group, reflecting on how refrigeration underpins the group’s operations throughout the region, says, “We have to look into the future in order to ensure other investment goes into right direction.” This is especially important since, as Dr M Ramaswamy, Technical Expert – Royal Estates, Royal Court Affairs, Sultanate of Oman, says the upward trajectory in demand is set to grow in the coming years, with the refrigeration market in the Middle East expected to reach USD 1.023 billion by 2024. Providing figures related to air conditioning, Srinivasan Rangan, a subject matter expert on refrigerants, says the estimated value of the market for HVAC products in the Middle East is USD 2 billion, and that when it comes to the issue of refrigerants “every stakeholder has their business plans at stake”.

Dr M Ramaswamy

Srinivasan Rangan

When it comes to transitioning, many stakeholders believe it is important to first identify factors hampering the move to low-GWP solutions. Mazen K Hussein, Head – National Ozone Unit, Ministry of Environment, Lebanon, says that alternatives for refrigerants currently in the market are not yet mature enough for the needs of the sector, especially in the GCC region, in view of the high-ambient conditions. Undoubtedly, a large number of solution providers are offering innovative products and technologies with the promise that they will meet stakeholder requirements. However, Jagannathan says, unless proven in the market, it’s difficult to have full-fledged deployment of such emerging technologies just yet. Echoing Jagannathan, Rangan says that extensive deployment is not as easy as one would hope. He points out that assessing the readiness of the technology is a highly scientific process, where performance, safety, reliability, footprint, energy efficiency and other features are validated. With new refrigerants, he says, compressor compatibility, oil return issues, aerodynamic profiling, performance testing and certifications are important aspects that must be taken into consideration. “Suppliers, in turn, generally declare performances after rigorous tests in the R&D and Beta Tests,” he says. “And most have to get products certified by AHRI or Eurovent and need to comply with the local MEPS codes.”

Mazen K Hussein

Eid Mohammed

For solutions that do manage to overcome the considerations that Rangan listed and get deployed commercially, there is still a question on whether the market is willing to adopt such technologies, given the likely higher investment compared to conventional solutions. As an end-user, Eid Mohammed, Senior Mechanical Engineer, Design Department, Ministry of Infrastructure Development, UAE, says that in his projects, selection of refrigerant is based on safety, efficiency, reliability and availability, especially for projects that may last 20-25 years. The most important factor in influencing equipment choice, though, he says, is cost. Nikhil Barve, Assistant Director for Operations & Maintenance, Emaar District Cooling, seconds this. Speaking from his experience operating large-tonnage chillers, Barve says that Emaar tries to initiate a dialogue with chiller manufacturers to gain a deeper understanding of refrigerants being used presently and the ones to be utilised in the future. However, he says, as an end-user he is mainly concerned with capital expenditure and the possible loss in energy efficiency, when migrating from equipment with old refrigerants.

Nikhil Barve

Hanan Ahmed, Head of Engineering & Maintenance Services, Al Kuwait Hospital (formerly Al Baraha Hospital), shares her own apprehensions, when it comes to adopting new solutions. “I have a fear to think outside the box, because as a hospital, we are different,” she says. “I want technology that will support me for another 20 years, because the replacement will not come yearly – it is an AED 10 million project if I am going to change the chiller and AHUs.” Additionally, Ahmed says, she needs cost-effective solutions, because budgets are controlled by administrative representatives unfamiliar with technical aspects of operation. “I would say, ‘Use this technology, it has less global warming potential’, but no one will understand,” she says.

Hanan Ahmed

Liju Thomas, President, ASHRAE Falcon Chapter, believes that in order to battle cost-centric thinking that serves as a bottleneck for not only the adoption of low-GWP solutions but also the proper maintenance of HVACR systems and, as a result, the management of refrigerants, there is a need to hold owners more accountable for their buildings. M Tahniat, Engineer (Projects & Sales), Albwardy Engineering Enterprises, which provides engineering services to hypermarket chain, Spinneys, adds that the need for accountability should not only be confined to owners of big projects, such as hospitals and malls, but should also include owners of small- and medium-sized developments. Tahniat says that there should be a government mechanism that would hold owners responsible with regard to the volume of refrigerants purchased, consumed and handled within their premises. “Building owners don’t even know what a refrigerant is,” he stresses.

Liju Thomas

M Tahniat

Jagannathan adds that building owners should also play a more proactive role in the design stage. “End-users should have a clear understanding of what they need and guide the consultants on what is ideal for them,” he says. “In most cases, because of time [constraints], when consultants are appointed they tend to go with tried-and-tested solutions, which may not have value-addition or analysis, to begin with. The solution may not be the best for the developer, who goes with what has been given to them.”

How contractors and consultants can accelerate adoption

George Berbari

As stakeholders analyse the vital role consultants and contractors play in helping accelerate overall sustainable solutions, George Berbari, CEO, DC PRO Engineering, points out that the lack of specialisation in the field is also a niggling problem. This, he says, is revealed by the significant energy waste across supermarket chains owing to poor design. He says: “My advice to the refrigeration industry is that it’s time to get consultants that specialise in refrigeration. Don’t let yourself be exposed.” He adds there is also a pressing requirement for consultants specialising in natural refrigerants, such as CO2 and ammonia, which is largely being looked at by many stakeholders as a way to future-proof equipment.

Additionally, contractors and consultants suffer from the same commercial pressures as end-users. Rangan points out that this also makes them wary of adopting and investing in equipment with new refrigerants. For consultants, he says, the main issues are performance and the number of suppliers that can offer the same product and efficiency, to safeguard the interests of the owner. As such, Rangan says, customers prefer to take decisions when at least three suppliers have low-GWP refrigerant products, adding that Middle East manufacturers’ capability to offer such products will drive some segment of the market in this regard. “The contractor’s role is to employ competent organisations, who have the skills
during the installation process,” he says. “And consultants should be well trained and updated to audit the process.”

Yaqoub Almatouq

Dr Ramaswamy points out that there is also a massive scope for improvement when it comes to the service sector, which he stresses remains largely disorganised when it comes to refrigerant management strategies. Berbari says that most technicians are still not aware of possible recycling of refrigerants and there is a need “to change the culture through more action”.

The need to change culture is perhaps the most pressing issue for Yaqoub Almatouq, Head of the Negotiations Team to Montreal Protocol, and Member, Kuwait National Ozone & Climate Change Committee, Environment Public Authority – Kuwait. Almatouq says there is a need to create a paradigm shift in the mindset of stakeholders and battle the prevailing copy-paste approach towards specifications across the region. “No one even invests in writing a new tender,” he says. “We are a creature of habit.” He adds that, often, efforts to change tenders are faced with much scrutiny towards the associated cost.

Working in silos

Everyone has a role to play. As aptly summarised by Rangan, refrigerant manufacturers have a responsibility to research and offer superior, cost￾effective refrigerant solutions. Equipment manufacturers, he adds, have the responsibility to test their products and evaluate new refrigerants ensuring they comply with safety and efficiency requirements, and are design-competitive products that are certified. Project design consultants, he further adds, should ensure sustainable, eco-friendly, competitive building designs to property developers. Owners and operators, he says, should ensure the building system complies with codes and regulations. And maintenance and service teams, he adds, should ensure continuous service to maintain a compliant system.

Didier Coulomb

The attempt to unravel the complexities related to the widespread adoption of low-GWP refrigerants in the region reveals that the path forward requires the contribution of each stakeholder and a need for earnest discussion. Advocating for a more cohesive, well-coordinated approach, Rangan says that currently, a common dialogue on refrigerants among stakeholders is virtually non-existent. Didier Coulomb, Director General, International Institute of Refrigeration, France, is in agreement, especially when it comes to addressing safety issues in leakage and recovery. “Dialogue is very difficult and complicated,” he says. “I’m confident we will find solutions but much more dialogue is needed.”

Jagannathan says using the right language is a necessity for moving the needle in promoting better dialogue. “What a scientist needs to know is different from what a technician needs to know,” he says. Developers, Jagannathan explains, would not be interested if they are told a solution is more energy efficient or results in lower emissions, but they will be interested if they are told it would reduce capital and operating costs, as well as increase resale value.

Almatouq says the need for the right kind of dialogue extends to engaging with authorities, which would accelerate the adoption of sustainable solutions. To emphasise this, Almatouq says, “Each time, political will is stronger than technical will.” Hussein adds that regulation, such as the implementation of MEPS or product labelling, also goes a long way in safeguarding borders of countries, as the standards would make them less vulnerable to dumping of equipment that are no longer compliant with minimum standards of other nations.

While regulation is vital, of equal importance is whether the right kind of regulations are being developed and implemented or not, with stakeholders providing recommendations based on observations of the industry. Thomas believes that an energy-rating system could greatly benefit the region. “In the West, you have good buildings and bad buildings,” he says. “For us, we just have buildings – you need to differentiate.” Such a rating system, he says, could lead to higher premiums on real estate, provided the value is revealed to potential tenants. Rangan adds that the industry could also take a cue from Europe’s eco-design roadmap, SEER method and refrigerant phase-down, in order to benchmark the
processes of conformance, and implement portions applicable for the region.

Speaking on behalf of Eurovent Middle East, Lattner recommends for authorities in the region to consider mandatory building inspection and assessment of HVAC systems, and possibly implement a scheme of penalties and incentives to urge building owners to invest in best practices related to refrigerant management. Representing AHRI, Walters says the organisation is working with UNEP in the development of a Refrigerant Driving License (RDL), which is a globally recognised programme of minimum requirements for the safe and sound management of refrigerants that can be adopted by industry and governments.

The invisible hand

Timothy McLaren

Timothy McLaren, Senior Commercial Contracts Engineer, Ramboll, however, believes it is important to recognise another invisible force driving behaviour – market forces. He says: “The government can be too slow in most cases and not necessarily bear the results you want, whereas market forces will.” Rangan agrees with McLaren. He says the price of the equipment would fundamentally determine the rate of transition to products with HFOs and low-GWP solutions. “Since the life of an air-cooled chiller is 10-15 years in Middle East conditions,” he says, “the transition is likely to be pushed back until 2028. For centrifugal chillers, since the life of the chiller is 25-30 years and there is an improvement in efficiency with HFO, the transition is likely to be earlier, provided it has a justifiable lifecycle cost.”

Amir Naqvi

Amir Naqvi, Regional Business Leader for Fluorine Products, META, Honeywell, also places his faith in market forces moving adoption, especially in view of the financial payback of cost-effective solutions. “In the GCC region, no one believed energy efficiency was important, because oil was cheap and energy was inexpensive,” he says. “With energy bills going up, subsidies going away, energy efficiency is the key driver, other than environmental regulations, which will impact decision in terms of choice of technology.”

In view of the complex set of challenges facing the HVACR industry, the future refrigerant landscape remains uncertain for stakeholders. However, Almatouq says, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” The reminder aims to embolden individuals to take action – else face a harrowing weather forecast at the turn of the century.

*source: https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/press-release/world-takes-stand-against-powerful-greenhouse-gases-implementation





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