On Oct. 15, 2016, representatives from more than 170 countries met in Kigali, Rwanda, and agreed to a legally binding accord under the Montreal Protocol to reduce worldwide use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

Stephen Yurek, president and CEO of the Air-Conditioning, Heating, & Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), recently discussed the Kigali Agreement and some of the effects it may have on the HVACR industry with The NEWS.

The NEWS: The HVACR industry has experienced a lot of regulation over the past decade — the Kigali Agreement is just the latest. And the industry has shown remarkable resiliency. AHRI has largely supported the phasedown of HFCs. Is there a message of support you’d like to share with an industry that keeps meeting the growing demand for air conditioning and refrigeration while suffering — as some manufacturers and contractors may perceive it — numerous regulatory “slings and arrows?”

Yurek: The benefit of a global phasedown plan is it provides a clear path forward, with delineated step-downs that enable our industry to properly plan for the future. We are hopeful that alignment with this phasedown will avoid an array of differing laws and regulations not only all over the world, but potentially all over our own country. This would cost considerably more time and money for our member companies along with great uncertainty.

The NEWS: Will the amendment to the Montreal Protocol be ratified in a timely manner?

Yurek: It remains to be seen whether the amendment to the Montreal Protocol will be submitted to the Senate for ratification. If it is submitted, AHRI will support approval by the Senate, but believes that other legislative changes will be necessary to provide a clear plan for implementation and coordination between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy (DOE) to ensure the phaseout and efficiency regulations are aligned. For example, AHRI is a strong advocate for federal preemption of any state or local plan that might differ from the Montreal Protocol amendment.

The NEWS: Is the Multilateral Fund sufficient to take on challenges and expenses presented by phasing down HFCs in developing countries?

Yurek: I think we will have a better idea of the funding necessary as we move forward with the phasedown steps. In any case, these are not decisions our industry is involved with, but we will certainly be working closely with manufacturers, associations, and governments around the world to help with this transition in any way we can.

The NEWS: Can you talk a little about AHRI’s efforts through the Low-GWP Alternative Refrigerants Evaluation Program (AREP) and the research into flammables? When will building codes allow for the best possible alternatives?

Yurek: As we began to realize a phasedown of HFCs was going to happen — and happen piecemeal in different parts of the world — we knew our advocating for a global agreement would have to be accompanied by research into alternatives. So, we began the Low-GWP AREP program in 2011 and completed two phases by the end of 2015. However, many of the most promising alternatives are currently classified as either mildly or highly flammable, and their use is severely restricted by current safety codes and standards. Therefore, we knew additional research would be necessary to identify relevant technical information that standard-development bodies need so they can review and revise such codes and standards to allow for and ensure the safe use of mildly and highly flammable refrigerants in HVACR equipment. This research effort targets the next revisions of the major safety codes, which are scheduled to be completed in 2021. Together with the Department of Energy; ASHRAE; California; and one of our member companies, Johnson Controls Inc., we will dedicate some $5.8 million to this effort and will present the results to safety standard and code bodies as they deliberate on potential code and standard changes.

The NEWS: Manufacturers have been preparing for this for some time — the idea of an HFC phasedown didn’t really sneak up on anyone. Would you like to comment on those efforts?

Yurek: It’s always nice to be out front on a major issue, and we definitely have been out front on this one. When we first began advocating for a global phasedown under the Montreal Protocol, there really were no concrete proposals for that anywhere in the world. Yes, there had been talk, but no actual proposals. Since then, the EU put in place its F-gas regulation, the EPA has been ambitiously using the SNAP program to regulate refrigerants in the U.S., and California has been debating strict controls on HFCs there. So, we are very happy that we now have a global agreement in place that we hope will result in the orderly phasedown of these refrigerants in such a way as to result in the least pain and cost for the industry and our customers.

The NEWS: What does this mean for HVACR contractors? What do they need to know and do to prepare? What should they be telling their customers?

Yurek: That is a good question. For now, contractors can continue their installation and maintenance work as before, but we will be working closely with ACCA; Heating, Air-conditioning, and Refrigeration Distributors International; the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association; and others to ensure technicians have the information they need to correctly and safely install new equipment that uses alternative refrigerants. At the same time, we also will be working with our industry allies around the world to ensure technicians everywhere have the skills and knowledge to safely navigate this transition. This will be challenging, but manageable, and we are confident that this new transition will be seamless for their customers.

The NEWS: Looking ahead, what does this agreement and all the research into new refrigerants portend in the long-term for the HVACR industry? What does the future look like?

Yurek: I think any time the industry has predictability — that is, we know what we will have to be doing with respect to regulations in the next five, 10, even 20 years — we have the ability to make planning, research and development, and investment decisions in an informed way. That makes the whole industry stronger.

Publication date: 1/16/2017

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