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Users of refrigeration are heading for a crisis amidst spiralling prices of higher-GWP refrigerants, the prospect of rapidly decreasing availability and a lack of information as to what they should do next. That is the bleak conclusion of delegates to RAC’s latest Question Time, devoted to the prospects for the industrial refrigeration sector.
At the same time, the sheer scale of price rises in the higher-GWP gases was accepted to have surprised even the closest market-watchers. Peter Dinnage, technical director of refrigerant distributor Climalife said: “The fact that R404A has risen by 1000 per cent - tenfold - since the beginning of the year has, it’s fair to say been faster than even we expected.”
The debate, drawing on expertise from across the industrial supply chain, revealed that amongst the industrial sector there was far less awareness of the implications of the coming F-Gas quota reductions and need for transition to lower-GWP alternatives than in the commercial refrigeration sectors - some industrial customers were reported to still be seeking to install new R404A equipment, despite all the publicity.
While it was acknowledged that industrial refrigeration end users have high levels of engineering expertise, their relative lack of influence on their companies’ overall strategies and, often, the isolated nature of their positions have left them in the dark when it comes to the need to transition to lower-GWP
F-Gas policy specialist Ray Gluckman pointed out, the industrial sector doesn’t have the ‘influencers’ that the commercial sector does. He said: “Even in a big company in the industrial sector, everything will be done, in refrigeration terms, at site level - it will be the site chief engineer or his assistant who is the key influencer. So, to get the message across about the transition to lower GWP refrigerants, we have to reach out to this rather disparate community.”
Graeme Fox, head of F-Gas registration body Refcom put it bluntly: I think as an industry we have been sleepwalking into this for a couple of years… It is a really confused sector.”
Those who work with end-users in the sector said for many there was no sense of urgency, while for others, the concern was lack of clarity. Rudy Regiano of supplier AFR Refrigeration told delegates he was spending 90 minutes a day trying to advise customers on moving to lower-GWP. Natasha Eley, service manager for contractor Stonegrove added: “There is no panic, that’s the problem - plant managers don’t want to do anything themselves.”
Kevin Smith of supplier Dawsonrentals said that the industry also needed to be more proactive: “We need to get the legislative act together on what is needed to get A2Ls into industrial systems and we need to hit the customers’ boardrooms with the message.”
Mr Gluckman noted that if the economies of supply had demand had seen prices rise tenfold in a year when the F-Gas quota was cut by 18 per cent, then the 2018 cut of 44 per cent, would inevitably ‘see supplies run out’.
Mr Dinnage stressed that converting to lower-GWP as early as possible was the best way to guard against further price rises. He said: “R404A will be available next year, but it won’t be available for everyone.”