• Climate Change
  • Building Energy Management
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Cooling and Climate Change Update

Christina Sookyung Jung
Feb 20, 2019

Connectivity 6

While the US was in the middle of a polar vortex, with temperatures plunging to their lowest in history, countries in the southern hemisphere like Australia and New Zealand were battling record-breaking heat. December is the beginning of the summer season in Australia. Although it is supposed to get hotter around January and February, due to climate change, these regions are experiencing increasingly hotter summers. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology reported temperatures of 49.5 Celsius (120 Fahrenheit) north of Adelaide, while inside the city temperatures reached 47.7 Celsius. This broke a record that had stood since 1939, and a health alert was in place across Sydney and New South Wales advising residents to stay indoors and keep hydrated. 

Needless to say, people are bound to turn on their air conditioners to keep cool. However, air conditioners are a contributor to global warming. The most significant issues are leaky air conditioning and refrigeration equipment; fortunately, there are global initiatives underway to address this concern. 

Kigali Amendment to the Rescue

Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) is a greenhouse gas (GHG) primarily used in refrigeration, air conditioning, insulating foams, and aerosol propellants, and is approximately 1,000 times more potent than CO2 as a warming agent. Most HFCs are contained within equipment, so emissions are the result of wear, faulty maintenance, or leakage at the end of a product’s lifetime. Though currently a small percentage of GHG emissions, this number will increase as air conditioning becomes more affordable and common in developing nations.

Foreseeing the consequences of this trend, an international agreement was reached in 2016. The Kigali HFC phasedown amendment to the Montreal Protocol was agreed upon and entered into force on January 1, 2019. Implementation required ratification by 20 countries—39 have ratified. The agreement specifically addresses HFC refrigerants and stipulates a timeline for limiting production and use. Developed countries in the European Union along with the US will begin with a 10% reduction (from a 2012 baseline) in the use and production of HFCs in 2019 and continue down to 85% by 2036. While any country can implement the content of the Amendment without ratification, those that do not ratify by 2033 will be subject to non-party trade provisions.

Do Not Forget About Energy Efficiency

Industry experts recognize that a phasedown of HFCs under the Kigali Amendment would present opportunities to catalyze and secure improvements in the energy efficiency of appliances and equipment, noting that the air conditioning and refrigeration sectors represent an increasing percentage of global electricity demand. Indeed, taking this opportunity to develop technologies that are compliant with the Kigali Amendment and are energy efficient can deliver a variety of benefits for sustainable development, energy security, public health, and climate mitigation. According to the Technology and Economic Assessment Panel, equipment selection and design can improve energy efficiency by 10%-70% and refrigerant selection by 5%-10%.

The good news is that industry leaders are already making moves in the right direction. At the 2019 AHR Expo, Johnson Controls’ York YZ Magnetic Bearing Centrifugal Chiller received an innovation award in the cooling category. This is a chiller that uses the R-1233zd refrigerant, which has a reduced effect on global warming and is energy efficient. The York YZ is also capable of a 35% reduction of electricity consumption annually.  With such exemplary industry commitment, coupled with strong policy foundation set by the Kigali Amendment, the air conditioning and refrigeration sector appears to be on track to reduce GHG emissions and electricity demand.