RESTON, Va. — Buoyed by their best year in history, the manufacturers of air conditioning and refrigeration equipment and components face a variety of challenges and opportunities as they confront the new century and millennium.

At its annual Spring Meeting, the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) had a busier-than-usual agenda, including environmental issues, international standards, energy efficiency minimums, and its far-reaching research program.

Add to that the delicate issue of the institute’s relationship with ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers). The subtext to this issue is the implication that ASHRAE’s membership — including its board of directors — has become top-heavy with representatives from the non-manufacturing sector: academics, environmentalists, utilities, energy companies, and others.

The ARI board of directors instructed product sections to review their companies’ membership in various ASHRAE technical committees and standing committees and “actively monitor” progress.

Here is a summary of some of the other issues confronting ARI.

  • NAECA standards: ARI staffer Ted Leland said any upward revision of these energy efficiency standards, in place since 1992, would be a “pleasant surprise” when they are unveiled later this year in proposed rulemaking. ARI’s activity within the Department of Energy (DOE) has been “going well,” he said. Unlike the contentious rulemaking process in the 1980s for the first round of standards, this round has gone more smoothly, partly a result of DOE’s willingness to listen to industry’s concerns.

    The final SEER minimum for residential air conditioners and heat pumps will be higher than the current 10 SEER, Leland said.

    The Clinton administration is said to be eager to have a final rule completed and published before its term ends. This puts DOE under “tremendous pressure” to complete the job. The new standards would take effect in 2006.

  • Harmonizing ARI standards: At the direction of its board, ARI is working on an ambitious program to harmonize its standards with those of the International Standards Organization, to ease the entry of U.S.-manufactured products into the European market.

    Two standards, both on water-source heat pumps, have been published by ISO and adopted by ARI. Still to come are a broad variety of standards on unitary equipment, refrigerant compressors, condensing units, and many more.

    Under this program, ARI standards wouldn’t be totally submerged, but would become ARI/ANSI/ASHRAE/ISO standards.

  • Research programs: ARI’s ARTI 21-CR program, a private-public sector partnership, aims at nothing less than finding and commercializing vast improvements in the next generation of products and components, to achieve system efficiencies and environmental safeguards.

    It will cast a wide net over all portions of the manufacturing sector, including technologies other than vapor compression with conventional refrigerants; system integration; indoor environmental quality; and new uses for working fluids.

    Financing these broad efforts will take between $24 million and $35 million, coming from ARI, the DOE, the Copper Development Association, and other trade associations including the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society, Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association, the Commercial Refrigerator Manufacturers Association, and the Canadian Heat Pump Council.

  • Tax rebates: It is unlikely that the administration’s proposal to allow tax rebates for the purchase of high-efficiency heating-cooling equipment will become law, at least during this session of Congress.

    The White House proposal would allow a rebate of 10% (not exceeding $250) for the purchase of an air conditioner or heat pump with a SEER of 13.5 to 14.9. For 20 SEER or higher, the rebate would be 20% (not exceeding $500).

  • R-22 phaseout: Although U.S. negotiators thwarted an earlier attempt by European nations to phase out HCFC-22 before the Montreal Protocol schedule, the issue is again alive on the continent, and may be voted on this fall.

    This would call for restrictions on production use and service use by Jan. 1, 2001. ARI hopes to prevail again through the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialog. A similar proposal is afoot in Japan.

  • PrimeNet: ARI’s new directory information database, now close to completion, will permit manufacturers to enter and update certified product information electronically. The first product sections to use this are unitary large and small equipment.

    This will allow the directories to be fully functional and searchable via the Internet, making the directory information more accessible to contractors, system designers, and other users.