The F-Gas Works campaign will be a chance for the industry to make its feelings known on HFCs, says Andrew Gaved
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The rac industry is accustomed to having to defend itself against environmentalists determined to make it change its practices. It is also used to policy makers proposing restrictive, impractical or ill considered legislation. But rarely have the two threats combined quite so starkly as with the current furore over the
future of HFCs.
Recent events have conspired to present a genuine threat to the industry as policy makers, keen to make a significant impact on climate change, have seized on HFCs because of their global warming potential.
At European level, the European Parliament’s recent statement on proposals for the Copenhagen Agreement in December cited the need for “an international emissions reduction arrangement” for HFCs, in order to step up research into alternative gases with lower global warming potential.
Those with experience of the machinations of Europe say that the devil is in the lack of detail within such a statement, and that it leaves the door open for
severe restrictions on use.
It could also, they say, provide a licence to run roughshod over the review of the F-Gas legislation, which is scheduled for 2011, even though this law was designed specifically to cut down on leaks of HFCs.
Closer to home, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister Lord Hunt made it clear that the UK government is prepared to be equally swingeing. He said that a “restriction on non-essential use” would be considered as part of the government’s F-Gas legislation review.
Thus we face the very real threat of severe restrictions, an early phase-out or simply a ban on refrigerants that are one of the mainstays of the industry. The consequences of such drastic action don’t have to be spelt out.
There are vast supermarket estates running on HFCs and even some of their most modern refrigeration systems have HFCs somewhere in the mix - prompting major end-users to predict huge costs from any accelerated phase-out.
On top of equipment costs is the fact that the UK has spent years preparing for F-Gas regulations precisely to reduce any climate effects through HFC leakage. It is only now starting to introduce training for handling, installing and maintaining HFCs under the F-Gas Assessment, for instance, so any change would require a major reinvestment of time and money.
HFCs: still the best solution
The disruption this would cause is only one part of the problem for industry. As well as the simple fact that HFCs’ global warming potential is only hypothetical if it doesn’t leak, a factor that has been barely considered is that HFCs remain the best, most efficient option for small to medium-sized air conditioning installations.
At RAC’s conference last month Graeme Fox of European contractors association AREA, presented findings from Japanese manufacturers that put HFCs far ahead of other alternatives for efficiency. And let’s not forget there is not yet an adequate infrastructure in components, equipment or trained personnel to support
a wholesale move to carbon dioxide.
If this weren’t enough, there is strong industry belief that F-Gas legislation, if given time to take effect, will prove that the rac industry has significantly reduced leaks.
Time for action
Many in the rac industry think the time has come for action, that we must prove to the policy makers that HFCs are still essential to our industry, and that an early ban will cause unprecedented disruption.
The first step is to galvanise industry support and raise awareness, so this month RAC launches its F-Gas Works campaign - so-called for the double belief that F-Gases remain essential working refrigerants and that the F-Gas legislation, given time, will prove the industry’s ability to contain leakage.
Anyone who wishes to support this campaign can sign up online at www.racplus.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. We will keep readers posted with anything relating to HFCs and F-Gas. The second step will be a meeting of major stakeholders at which the industry’s position is hammered out, ready to take to the main policy makers.
It is time for action!