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An uncertain future

In its latest International Business Briefing, the Institute of Refrigeration’s International Refrigeration Committee focused on barriers to business innovation

The International Refrigeration Committee’s (IRC) business briefings are a regular feature of the industry calendar, with a common theme of seeking out experience at a European or global level on topics of particular interest to businesses in the refrigeration, air-conditioning and heat pump sectors.

This year’s seminar, Technology Innovation and Market Regulation, brought together speakers from the UK, Germany and The Netherlands to look at the effect of recent EU directives on business.

Speakers from industry included Dmytro Zaytsev from GEA Refrigeration, Jürgen Süß from Efficient Energy GmbH and Dina Köpke from Emerson Climate Technology (all from Germany), with Andy Pearson and Chris Playford representing UK companies Star Refrigeration and Foster Refrigeration.

After an introduction by IOR past-president Dr Andy Pearson, Dr Lambert Kuijpers of the Dutch consultancy A/gent opened the programme with a review of the effect on innovation of the F-gas regulations.

Dr Kuijpers is well-known as the co-chair of UNEP’s Technical and Economic Assessment Panel and Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heat Pump Technical Options Committee.

He noted that the early documents developing the text of the F-gas amendment, including the Commission’s proposal of November 2012 and subsequent press releases, had highlighted that changes would accelerate development of new technologies, therefore benefitting European businesses.

However, Dr Kuijpers noted that the rate of change required by the directive is rapid and may not allow companies, no matter how willing, to complete a full product development cycle.

There may therefore be a need to take short-term protective action followed by longer term development of the new products. This is undoubtedly a high-risk/high-reward approach, if it works.

Dina Köpke provided an overview of the complex web of regulations facing manufacturers in Europe, highlighting that in some cases products are over-regulated, particularly where materials, components and assemblies of products are all covered by separate rules.

Ms Köpke concluded that while regulation had resulted in beneficial change, it had also diverted resource away from other development topics and had not been applied with equal rigour in all jurisdictions.

Ultimately, it is also necessary to find ways to adapt consumer behaviour, not just product design, if the potential for environmental benefit is to be achieved.

Andy Pearson gave a brief overview of the ways in which regulations are being used to drive efficiency improvement, including energy labelling, the energy related products directive (ErP) and the Enhanced Capital Allowance Scheme.

Chris Playford then explained the adverse implications for a manufacturer on regulations applied to the whole market at once. Foster’s product range is 80 per cent standard items and 20 per cent customised to consumer-specific requirements.

Huge diversity

While the regulations can be accommodated for the 80 per cent relatively easily, it is much harder to account for the specialised products, simply due to the huge diversity.

He concluded that there have been some benefits from the regulations it is likely that the full benefit envisaged by their creators will not be realised and meanwhile scarce resources will have been diverted from potentially more environmentally beneficial projects because they are not covered.

The third section of the briefing focused on developments that fall outside the scope of the existing regulations and explored whether these disruptive technologies are inspired or inhibited by being out of the limelight.

Dmytro Zaytsev showed that GEA had been able to use the efficiency regulations as a platform for product improvement, for example, in variable speed drives for efficient part load operation, while their focus on ammonia had bypassed many of the requirements of the F-gas regulations.

Jürgen Süß described three major developments he had encountered in his career; the small carbon dioxide compressor used in beverage vending machines, the high speed centrifugal compressor and his current project, the use of water as a vapour compression refrigerant (R-718) in small sized chillers (up to 50kW) used in data centre cooling.

His conclusion from these diverse experiences was that technology is relatively easy to change, but culture is much more difficult.

It is necessary to find new ways of achieving our cooling and heating requirements, but public expectations and behaviour must also change.

Graham Hazell of the Heat Pump Association provided an overview of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) and its application to domestic and non-domestic systems. He showed that it had been well-received, but uncertainty over rates and future applicability was potentially damaging.

The speakers were then joined by Dr Penny Dunbabin of DECC for a panel discussion with audience questions, which ranged from the role of NGOs in the process to the threat faced by small companies who are used to a rapid cycle of product development but are significantly hampered in their speed to market by the level of regulation and do not have the resources of large companies to commit manpower to tracking legislation and lobbying.

The panel agreed that legislation itself is not the main problem – it is coping with the uncertainty caused by long introductory periods and frequent changes of the rules that has proved to be more difficult.   

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