Welcome to year zero. The waiting is over and the F-Gas regulation has passed into law and life as we know it changes forever. Over-dramatic? Well, it will be a dramatic shift for everyone in the industry who thus far have somehow managed to avoid all the noise from the supermarkets about the need to move away from HFCs.
These regs were specifically designed to see off the traditional portfolio that a generation of engineers has grown up with. Anyone hoping for a quiet life after losing R-22 is in for a bit of a shock.
Don’t just listen to me, listen to the experts. Those who were at our F-Gas Question Time were in no doubt these regs will drive the industry towards lower-GWP refrigerant, and among other things that will mean getting to grips with mildly flammable refrigerants such as R-32 and the forthcoming HFO blends.
Now the good news is that the likes of Daikin are in no doubt that working with R-32 is actually pretty straightforward — the point was well made that we happily work with half R-32 blends in the shape of R-410A.
There will be some changes in practice and some equipment will be different, but it is nothing to fear. Daikin has made a cast-iron commitment that it will not be launching units in the UK until the installers have been properly trained and their questions answered.
The bad news, I guess, is that the industry can’t afford to sit back and see how it pans out — we can’t just assume that because bans and the like don’t kick in until 2020 that there is plenty of time.
Because the other point that the Question Time experts were clear about was that “business as usual” is not an option. Planning has got to start in earnest because supply and demand is going to play a part in the coming years as the phase-down takes effect in Europe.
Lower HFC production means inevitably higher prices and potentially at pinch points, availability problems with the gases. The way the regs are weighted against high-GWP means that the days of R-404A will inevitably be numbered — yes, even that currently cheap and plentiful gas will become a valuable commodity.
It is going to need a lot of dialogue with customers — particularly, for instance, if they are one of the owners of smaller retail systems that will now need to adopt new leak inspection regimes.
I think a key issue will be getting the customers to understand and embrace lower-GWP refrigerants, not least the cost implications.
I hope the industry will have learned valuable lessons from the R-22 phaseout experience — some end-users are now talking about having to mothball R-22 systems because they have not realized the finality of the phaseout in six month’s time.
The message from our Question Time was there remains a lot to sort out, so it is vital that the industry receives good clear guidance. It goes without saying that we at Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Magazine will be looking to help the cooling industry in this.
Content for the European Spotlight is provided courtesy of Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Magazine, London. For more information, visit www.racplus.com.
Publication date: 6/9/2014