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The Environment: A Global Overview

by Larry Butz

It is not difficult to become a believer in global warming. According to the U.S. National Climatic Data Center 2001 was the second warmest year on record and it was the 23rd consecutive year of above normal temperatures. Perhaps most troubling is the fact that the rate of temperature increase is accelerating. Add to this the data just released from insurer Munich Re stating that deaths from natural disasters were more than double in 2001 versus 2000 and insured losses were up more than 50%.UNEP estimates that the extra economic costs of disasters attributable to global warming are running at more than $300 billion annually.

Some 180 countries are proceeding toward an expected ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by the end of this year. Of the six gases it will control CO2 is by far the largest contributing nearly 90% of the global warming impact. The primary source of CO2 is the burning of fossil fuels. Therefore the focus on energy will continue to increase.

Throughout the world different methods are being used to encourage reduced energy use. Japan has enacted the Energy Conservation Law in 1999 mandating huge efficiency improvements by 2004 for nearly all air conditioning products. The U.S. has revised ASHRAE Standard 90.1 for buildings to raise the minimum COP level for centrifugal chillers from the current value of 5.2 to 6.1 effective in October 2001. DOE and Green Seal have revised their recommended efficiency levels to an even higher level of 6.27.

Some countries use laws. Others use codes and standards. An increasing number of countries are using environmental costing which increases the price of energy thereby increasing the financial attractiveness of high efficiency products. European countries have been using such “carbon taxes” for more than a decade. However a rapidly growing trend in developing countries is the reduction of subsidies to energy industries “so prices more accurately reflect environmental impacts” according to OECD’s Environmental Strategy for the First Decade of the 21st Century.

China has shown leadership by reducing subsidies to the coal industry from $24.5 billion in 1990 to $10 billion in 1996 resulting in 7% emissions reduction while seeing a solid economic growth of 36%! China is now moving aggressively into environmental costing with the just announced (1/13/2002) 5-year environmental plan that commits 700 billion yuan ($84 billion) to help protect the environment. The government will provide the fist 65 billion yuan to initiate the project but will apply the “polluter pays” principle for the rest. The “environmental protection authorities will collect funds from the pollution-producing companies”. The impact on the price of energy is not known at this time. However it is clear that the addition of environmental costing will increase energy prices. According to a European Research Commission Report of July 2001 “The cost of producing electricity from coal or oil would double if costs such as damage to the environment and health were taken into account”.

The global movement to high efficiency is accelerating just like the rate of temperature increase. But this is not all that is changing. This second environmental threat of global warming is making it clear that we need to give combined consideration to ozone depletion and global warming. But more important is the need to focus on the real issue which is the total environmental impact not address each individual environmental threat in isolation. This includes the concept of environmental risk exposure, which recognizes that there are other environmental threats that are less well understood today. However, there are “no regrets” decisions we can make today (such as minimum refrigerant charge, minimum atmospheric life refrigerants, etc.) to minimize these risks.

Combined consideration would place more emphasis on reducing the use of CFCs, which are still being produced in developing countries until 2010 in accordance with the Montreal Protocol. Little attention is being given the large contribution to global warming from CFCs. Actions which cause confusion and delay the phaseout of CFCs cause increased environmental damage rather than lessening the environmental impact.

The other rapidly changing factor in the HVAC industry is the shift to becoming a hermetic industry, where refrigerant is contained throughout the life of a chiller and recycled for further use when the chiller is replaced. This simple understanding that “if it doesn’t get into the environment it does no harm” is a powerful argument, which will lead to the continued use of the most efficient refrigerants in such closed hermetic applications as chillers. In just 15 years annual refrigerants emissions from chillers have been reduced from 25% to well below 1% today. This defines a whole different world than that which existed when the Montreal Protocol was crafted some 15 years ago.

But perhaps the most important change coming to our industry is the realization that there are no new or “perfect” refrigerants waiting to be discovered. There are eight elements that can be combined for use in a vapor compression cycle. All feasible combinations of these eight have been evaluated. The reality is “what we have now is all there is”.

This recognition is why we are now seeing a shift from the search for a perfect refrigerant to a search for the right refrigerant(s) for the right application. Said another way, the highest efficiency refrigerants for the lowest emissions applications. Many in our industry call this “Responsible Use”.

About The Author
Larry Butz is a business globalization and energy efficiency expert for GEA Consulting. GEA Consulting is a global resource dedicated to developing practical solutions that drive client revenue, efficiency, and operational productivity.

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