HVACR performance regulations in the GCC region are relatively new compared to existing regulations in the European Union and North America. HVACR equipment consume much of the electricity produced in the GCC region, owing to hot climatic conditions. Governments partially subsidise electricity in many countries in the GCC region. After the steep decline in oil prices in 2014-2015, oil-producing countries realised that HVACR energy efficiency regulations could effectively and swiftly reduce energy consumption.
The measures taken in the last few years have yielded significant benefits to end-users as well as to governments and have positively addressed climate change policies by reducing carbon emissions. To quickly establish Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS), regulatory bodies adopted existing and reliable international HVACR performance standards developed by organisations such as AHRI and ISO.
When launching or modifying standards, the authorities must carefully consider four areas:
1) Available technology: Existing multiple manufacturers can support new regulations.
2) Consumer access: The average cost increase of the new product is not out of reach of the average consumer.
3) Time: Adequate time for manufacturers to comply with new regulations.
4) Multi-path approach: allowing more than one global standard to be referenced or deployed. This will minimise trade barriers and pave the way for introducing more technologies and products, which will result in more competition and better prices and selections for end users.
The most frequently cited negative impacts of new regulations by manufacturers are financial cost and time. Most of the HVACR equipment sold in the GCC region are specifically manufactured for the region. They are designed to operate in rugged and high-ambient conditions. To meet those conditions, manufacturers often employ larger heat exchangers, add additional measures to cool electronics, use corrosion-resistant material and other measures. When a regulatory change occurs, manufacturers are required to either design new equipment or modify existing equipment to meet the new requirements.
Product development is a lengthy process that includes research and development, design, testing, tooling, manufacturing, certification, registration and shipping. On average, the entire process takes 18-24 months from start to finish. Unfortunately, at the time of launching MEPS in the GCC region, though regulatory bodies took efforts to communicate about the MEPS, some manufacturers complained they were not given enough time to comply with the new regulations.
In countries with a more mature regulatory process, manufacturers’ associations, such as AHRI, usually get involved at an early stage with the regulatory bodies to help maintain regulatory stability by providing sufficient notice of changes. Indeed, manufacturer associations usually have access to local, regional and international manufacturers. They act as a voice of manufacturers and help ensure that the changes meet the aforementioned three criteria.
Regulatory authorities have increasingly begun working with manufacturers. The productive dialogue can alleviate many issues arising out of new regulations, such as product availability interruptions, price hikes, failure to comply, product rework and recalls, products being too costly to launch, shipment being held and rejected at the borders, and insufficient training of technicians. Manufacturers are experts in their field. HVACR industry standards, especially AHRI’s, are developed by manufacturers and typically reflect the latest in testing, product feedback from users and government bodies, and HVACR technology.
The other challenge manufacturers face in the GCC region is the lack of harmonisation of standards among the member countries. Although the climate and operating conditions are similar, each country has slightly different requirements or set of conditions that a product must be tested under, and all in a relatively small geographical region. These slightly different conditions can, for practical reasons, be made the same and work for all countries. For example, each country has its own unique energy label design that must be placed on the product. Some countries have different test conditions, requiring testing the product at different temperature test points.
For manufacturers assessing whether to offer or sell their technologies and products in the region, complying with multiple countries’ requirements is a major challenge. It often means developing and testing multiple unique models, one for each country. Doing that requires employing additional personnel to handle the added work and registration requirements. It also means bearing the cost of having and warehousing additional inventory to support the different requirements. The situation often creates a disincentive to serve the region or spurs thinking along the lines of avoiding unique markets within the region.
The negative effect of this disincentive can cause, and may be doing so now, many local and international manufacturers not to offer their complete product portfolios but only the bare minimum to the region. All of this diminishes the potential impact and energy savings of each individual regulatory scheme. Organizations like the GSO (GCC Standardization Organization) are working to bridge the gap by promoting harmonised HVAC&R standards and certification programmes that all GCC region countries can adopt.
The task of harmonizing the standards is a highly challenging one, as each country takes pride in what it has developed or established in terms of regulations. GSO is already making some headway, and we are starting to see more and more support and cooperation from the member countries in that direction.
Nabil Shahin is International Technical Director, Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI). He may be contacted at NShahin@ahrinet.org