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The role of F-Gas

We have dedicated the bulk of this issue to low carbon cooling, a theme that takes in a wide range of elements as rac firms strive to reduce their carbon footprint. We have divided the coverage this time into two broad areas - natural refrigerants and improving energy efficiency - and we begin with the HVCA’s Karen Leader on getting serious about F-Gas

The controversy surrounding the long-term role of HFC refrigerants has created a false impression that the rac industry is locked in combat with the environmental lobby. We are not: far from it.


The professional rac sector has access to a wide range of potential solutions for our projects and each has its place. Our principal aim is to deliver the best possible performance for clients at the lowest energy penalty, whether that is by using HFCs, ammonia, carbon dioxide or hydrocarbons.


HFCs are, currently, the most energy-efficient choice for many applications, particularly in small to medium-sized air conditioning systems. But in 10 years’ time, HFCs will account for less than 0.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, whereas power stations currently account for 40 per cent. Surely, therefore, our main focus has to be on reducing power consumption.


The bulk of UK and EU legislation relevant to our sector has energy efficiency as its main focus. Any proposed ban on HFCs would be swimming against this tide by driving up energy consumption.


Enforce regulation
Meanwhile, the industry is putting its house in order to ensure that those ‘direct’ emissions are as minimal as possible. We have embraced the F-Gas Regulation and
encouraged the Government to enforce it rigorously, so that professional standards are raised across the sector and refrigerant leakage brought under control. And the Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association (HVCA) is proposing a series of further voluntary steps that go beyond the regulatory requirements of F-Gas to show that we support the spirit as well as the letter of the law.


The Dutch STEK scheme (from the refrigeration and emission prevention foundation) has been in operation for 16 years and, in that time, has reduced leakage rates from around 9 per cent to 1.5 per cent on fixed ac systems. This proves that regulation can make a huge difference. Ironically, the Dutch have been forced to relax their scheme to bring it in line with the rest of Europe now the F-Gas Regulation is in place. We favour aiming high by trying to emulate STEK.


The UK industry, in line with 50 per cent of other EU member states, is also calling for a statutory register of individual operatives. The Government has finally endorsed a company registration scheme, but we want to go further by helping to set up a scheme that will overcome the problem of individual engineers migrating around the industry and operating without proper control.


The unregulated nature of the sector also means that many pipework installations are simply not up to scratch, which leads to leakage. F-Gas gives us a real
opportunity to do something positive about this. Much pipe fitting is carried out by non-refrigeration experts who do not have the requisite refrigerant handling
qualifications.


As a result, some of the supermarkets are now considering restricting access to their sites to engineers with proper refrigerant handling qualifications to target this issue. The Construction Skills Certification Scheme in operation on building sites is a useful model for this, particularly as most main contractors are now barring non-cardholders from their sites.


We favour enforcing high standards of brazing and pipe jointing techniques alongside widespread use of leak-tight components. Flare nuts are also a huge problem and are thought to be responsible for up to 50 per cent of refrigerant leakage. The rac sector is pressurising manufacturers to do away with them and, if they won’t, we are making it policy to encourage engineers to remove them wherever possible during installation.


We would also support going beyond the requirements of F-Gas to insist on full record-keeping by all rac installation and service teams. Now that all building managers face a requirement to have their ac systems inspected, these records could prove invaluable.


We also support a tax on HFCs to encourage people not to waste it - this has proved successful in Norway and Australia, where users receive a tax rebate if they
reclaim and recycle the gas.


All of these are areas where professional, qualified firms can and will take a lead. Through the HVCA, we propose producing best practice guidance, focusing on areas where refrigerant leaks can occur and to raise the bar from the minimum standards required by F-Gas.


During statutory inspections and service visits, engineers should take the opportunity to remove flare nuts and look out for parts of the system that might be susceptible to leaks in the future - prevention is always better than cure.


Government support needed

We are serious about using the F-Gas mechanism to drive up professional standards. However, we also need support from the Government, which must enforce its own legislation, and from environmentalists who, rather than working against us, should encourage the European Commission to tighten up aspects of the F-Gas Regulation as part of the 2011 review.


The Regulation must be given time to take effect. By the time of the 2011 review it will have been in full operation for only 18 months, so the amount of data gathered will be insufficient to decide whether it is working or not. It will take several years to improve professional standards, tighten up design and drive unregulated firms out of the sector.


The industry recognises the need for the 2011 review and the legal obligations of the European Commission to hold one, but would urge officials to take a ‘light touch’ approach. Rather than making hasty policy changes based on limited data, why not take the opportunity to review progress to date and tighten up the provisions in line with feedback from the industry?


We have regulations in place, we are working to support them and we are prepared to voluntarily go further, but we cannot do it alone.


Karen Leader is chairman of the HVCA’s Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Group

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