What is the price of keeping cool?
Hotter days and nights, rising sea temperatures as a result of global warming, and increased exposure to Ultra Violet (UV) B radiation – all due to a deteriorating ozone layer.
Air conditioning (AC) units are growing in popularity and may be found in the home, the car and the office, but the effects of several of the refrigerant gases used by these systems to keep things cool are damaging the ozone layer, resulting in countries across the globe struggling to deal with the associated consequences of a deteriorating ozone layer. These gases are now universally referred to as Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS).
One of the main groups of refrigerants was chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), initially introduced in the 1920s as the "wonder chemicals" in air conditioning and refrigeration, because of their high cooling efficiency and ability to provide extended storage for perishable commodities.
But, it was not long before another "wonder" was discovered – there was a hole in the ozone layer, more accurately, a thinning of the ozone layer, particularly over Antartica.
CFCs, considered to be one of the contributing factors to that hole, were later phased-out and replaced with hydrochloroflurocarbons (HCFCs), which are also considered to be an ODS, since they cause damage to the ozone layer, but at a much slower rate.
However, the introduction of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in 1987 now means that HCFCs, will also have to undergo a global phase-out.
The Government of Barbados is also a signatory to the Montreal Protocol, and as it continues its quest towards achieving a green economy, it is doing its part in the global effort to protect the ozone layer.
According to Project Manager for Barbados’ Hydrofluorocarbon Phase-Out Management Plan project, Rickardo Ward: "It is not a case of getting rid of these things and foregoing refrigeration. The challenge under the Protocol is to move to a situation where we can still have the utility provided by refrigeration and air conditioning, while not using these substances that cause harm to the ozone layer."
He further explained that emphasis must be placed on energy efficient, utilizing climate friendly alternatives which were not ozone depleting – such as natural refrigerants.
But, that will require a number of changes in the way business is done in Barbados, particularly at the legislative level. Mr. Ward explained that one challenge was in establishing and exercising domestic measures to ensure that Barbados had the appropriate policies and actions in place to ensure it complied with regulations.
"There is the institutional strengthening component, and we generally receive funding from the Multilateral Fund that is administered through the United Nations Environment Programme for this. We have been through four phases and are actively preparing for the fifth phase now.
We have done the refrigerant management plan already and this was targeted at the first phase-out obligation – the phase-out of CFCs," Mr. Ward pointed out.
Through the implementation of that plan, a Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Association was established along with a national import/export licencing system and customs officers were trained. In addition, training of technicians involved in the Refrigeration Air Conditioning (RAC) and Mobile Air Conditioning (MAC) sectors was conducted and equipment was provided to the MAC service centres.
Now, Barbados is at the stage of formulating a Management Plan that would govern how the phase-out process for HCFCs will be exercised.
Mr. Ward said Barbados’ main challenge for 2012 and moving forward was to establish the HCFC baseline. That is, the maximum volume of refrigerant gas that may be imported based on the country’s 2009 and 2010 import volumes.
"Right now it is estimated at around 67 metric tonnes, but that is to be validated in the HCFC Management Plan. We would have to define a domestic quota system against our phase-out targets because if that is the baseline we would have to sequentially reduce it over the years, and [determine] how it will be distributed across the main importers," he stated.
The Project Manager explained that as the country moved into a quota system from 2013, there would be a need for a greater vision. "For example, if it is determined that there are only four or five agencies that are involved in importing these gases, you need to ensure that certificates are not issued beyond what the domestic quota is," Mr. Ward noted.
In addition, the Project Manager pointed out that consideration would also have to be given to formulating and implementing policies to minimise HCFC demand and guard against illegal trade.
The latter consideration, Mr. Ward stressed, was particularly important, especially as some countries may opt to offer refrigerators and AC units using HCFC gases at cheaper prices.
"Local suppliers may be inclined to go for that because of price, and then they come on the market. The fact is that if we allow that to occur for an extended period, there is the possibility that a consumer may buy it today, it may go bad within six months, and the option of extending its useful life through servicing may be forgone because of the scarcity issue related to the availability of the refrigerant gas. We have to guard against these things," he emphasised.
To do this, he stated Barbados now had to enhance its institutional and regulatory roles and responses; build technical capacity to service new technologies; and address matters of recycling, and the reuse and disposal of used refrigerant. In addition, he said the country also needed to review and implement the appropriate legislative amendments.
Major players in this field include the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs for the management of the import and export system, the Customs and Excise Department for validating the imports, and the National Ozone Unit of the Ministry of the Environment and Drainage for monitoring Barbados’ obligations
internationally and providing appropriate guidance at the national level going forward.
However, home and business owners are also being urged to be vigilant as the phase-out process begins. Mr. Ward explained that as it gets under way, HCFCs such as R22 and R406A will eventually go on a restricted list. That, he said, meant that anyone wishing to import those gases must have an import licence regardless of how they were packaged.
However, he explained that a licence was not required to import a refrigerator. But, if that refrigerator used a gas that was subject to a licence, then one would be required for the gas packaged inside.
So, how do those purchasing equipment which use refrigerants such as refrigerators, air conditioning units, chillers, vending machines and water coolers know whether or not they are buying one using a restricted gas?
"All refrigeration equipment must come with their labels stating what refrigerant it contains and the charge. If you are importing a refrigerator, ask what type of refrigerant you are using," the project manager advised.
However, as the country looks more towards alternatives to keep things cool, Mr. Ward cautioned: "You would expect that as new technology is being introduced, that it is likely to cost more until it sufficiently penetrates the market.
"If we are trying to make the shift from this particular type of technology to this new one, there might be consideration of how do we offset the cost. That is a policy decision that Cabinet will make. We have to investigate that and make the recommendations to Cabinet," he said.
Looking ahead, Mr. Ward further noted that his ministry was trying to ensure that Barbados did not continue to significantly accumulate HCFCs and equipment
"We may have to identify a specific period in the near future where we should ban the importation of technologies using that type of gas," he explained.