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US shows Europe the way on low-GWP cooling

Yes we can! That’s the message from the US president on going green but will Europe listen?

This issue of RAC magazine (free to view online - simply register) is decidedly Cooling-focused, but I won’t bang on about it here, as I talk about it enough within the supplement. But I recommend you have a look through, especially if you are interested in a) natural refrigerants; b) heat recovery and integrated systems, and c) smartphone technology, as there are some pretty whizzy innovations in there.

The other overriding theme in this issue I think is how the US is progressing on its journey towards refrigerants that are better for the environment.

Now, considering that the US is often characterised as behind the curve on green refrigeration I think it is due for reappraisal. Because it seems clear that the continent is intent on making up for lost ground and the way it is doing it should teach our European policymakers a lesson or two.

The first sign that the US seriously wanted to get its house in order was when its federal environment body the EPA announced its intention to phase down high-GWP refrigerants.

Now when the EU suggested banning high-GWP gases, within the new F-Gas regulations, its date of  2020  initially gave everyone a sharp intake of breath.

By contrast the US authorities decided six years was far too long and so the proposal on the table is  just two. The American authorities have clearly reasoned that since for some sectors it is practically feasible to get shot of R404A now, there is nothing wrong with a bit of ‘incentive’ to get on and do it.

The second sign of serious intent is the way that the EPA has tackled one of its biggest retailers over its woeful record on refrigerant leakage (see p8 of RAC October).

Costco is a big outfit, but it had been very careless – lawyers prevent me from saying wilfully negligent – over leakage. So the EPA made a public example of them by imposing a mandatory refrigerant management plan.

My question, dear reader, is when have you seen such proactivity from authorities in Europe?

When it comes to leakage, there have been no such prosecutions in Europe that I know of, certainly not in the UK. And when it comes to flouting regulations, well, Daimler has thumbed its nose at the MAC Directive for the past 18 months and what has the European Commission done?

And the third way the US has shown leadership is in its commitment to finding lower-GWP alternatives. Last month’s White House event, reported on p4 of RAC October, was clearly one of those government events where you are only allowed to attend if you bring good news. For a start the US cooling industry has committed $5bn to researching the new refrigerants.

That’s quite a sum – but the bigger news is that the US government appears to be really backing the push for change, with President Obama putting his name to the campaign and a federal programme to go with it.

Can you imagine the Tory government backing refrigerants in such a big way? Or David Cameron announcing a programme for investing in the low-GWP cooling industry? Me neither.

So credit where it’s due to the US. I wonder whether Europe will respond with its own combination of carrot and stick.

Readers' comments (3)

  • The US is not leading the way, or showing Europe the way when it comes to low-GWP refrigerants. Legislation in itself does not indicate leadership but may show intent. In Europe legislation doesn’t even do that. Take the air-conditioning inspections or any refrigerant related legislation and you will be hard pressed to find any sort of policing. When it comes to the RAC industry the current legislation is without teeth. In this aspect, the US are more proactive.

    But back to the leading the way statement, there is huge dis-joint between what is actually happening on the ground and Government. Take the Sainsbury CO2 roll-out programme for example; is that not leading the way globally? There are many other fine examples of the UK industry implementing low-GWP refrigerants across the whole sector. Far more positive stories that I would suggest than in the US.

    Where the dis-joint is, is between the RAC industry, those actually getting the work down, and industry trade bodies and associations. The trade bodies have historically spent most of their time resisting legislative change towards low-GWP refrigerants. They constantly say why it can’t be down; it will cost the industry too much, the time scale is too short, etc, etc, etc. Unlike the industry that they claim to represent they do not have a ‘can-do’ attitude. Sharp intake of breath from whom? Sainsbury? I don’t think so.
    I have no idea what government think or how they think and operate, but I suspect that they recognise the trade body lobbyists for what they are and treat them with the contempt they deserve. They do not represent industry in the same way that the US trade associations do, and in there lies the problem.

    “Yes we can, and yes we already do” is the message from the UK RAC industry. “Are we behind the US when it comes to actually implementing low-GWP refrigerants? No!” The Cooling Industry Awards was filled with fine examples of best practise. Your head-line should have read- the US resorts to legislation to force industry into action.

    Does the US policy of legislation have sharper teeth and reveal a willingness to move forward. Yes, for sure, but this is to play catch-up, not to lead the way.
    There are things we can learn from the US approach and that is lobby for positive change; not to stay in the stuck in the past. Having said all that, there are fresh faces appearing and we all hope this will bring with it a sea-change.
    Your head-line should read “UK industry leads the way – can the industry dinosaurs take their head out of the sand, and can the bureaucrats keep up with their red-tape?”

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  • Well said Jason. If leading is beating with a stick (legislation) then perhaps headline is correct, but if it comes to ACTUALLY leading by example with technology and installations then the UK and some other countries in Europe are by far leading the way.
    The other will follow the UK's example not the US when it comes to low-GWP refrigerants

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  • I am glad that my 'light the blue touchpaper and retire' editorial has proved as provocative as intended!

    You are both right, I should have made the distinction in my headline that i was referring to the policymakers 'showing the way'. because the US certainly has some catching up to do with Europe when it comes to producing low-GWP technology. The interesting thing to wonder now is whether the proposed big stick from the US might create some new opportunities for European firms...

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