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Air Conditioning and the Environmental Impact

30th May 2022

What impact does my air conditioning system have on the environment?

Air conditioning affects the environment in two ways;

1) Consumption of power

2) Refrigerant leakage – The fluid contained within air conditioning, called refrigerant, facilitates heat transfer. Refrigerants are man-made and made up of different compounds. All refrigerants have an effect on the environment when leaked. Refrigerant type R410A is the most common refrigerant used in air conditioning and has a 2088x greater effect on global warming than carbon dioxide.

Can Refrigerant leaks be avoided?

Refrigerant is volatile and this is a necessary feature to enable it to change from liquid to gas. As a result, it is prone to leaking and the risk can’t always be avoided. However, there is legislation, including the F-Gas Regulations, to govern the safe handling and working with refrigerant gases to mitigate leaks. HVAC systems are also inspected regularly to ensure they continue to conform with the latest environmental guidelines.

The best thing that you can do to minimise leaks as a user is to employ a qualified and experienced HVAC company who can advise you on legislation and be proactive in improving your systems.

What else can I do to reduce the impact of my air conditioning system on the environment?

As well as employing a qualified HVAC company, you can also take steps to reduce the impact of your a/c on the environment with the following tips:

  1. Reassess how long you need to operate your equipment. Use your control panel to set times and temperatures. Speak to your HVAC maintenance engineer for a demonstration if you are unsure.
  2. Think about how hot or cold you really need to have the temperature set to as setting the temperature just 1°C higher or lower can make an impact.
  • When in cooling mode – each °C higher you set the temperature at will improve the efficiency by around 3%
  • When in heating mode – each °C lower you set the temperature at will improve the efficiency by around 3%

I am looking at installing a new air conditioning system, is there anything I should consider in terms of the environment?

There are lots of things that you can take into consideration when looking at installing a new air conditioning system. One of the most important things to do is to choose the right contractor. Make sure that your contractor has design as well as install capabilities. Not all contractors that install have the capability to design. Also ask any potential HVAC contractor for their environmental credentials and examples of their work.

A good contractor will guide you through the options and propose a design that meets your environmental and business goals. Some of the options that they will advise you on are:

  • Manufacturer – There are many manufacturers of air conditioning equipment with varying ranges of costs. When it comes to environmental impact, manufacturers whose equipment is more expensive tend to invest more money into research and development on environmental impact. Therefore, the more expensive equipment requires more investment at the install stage but then offers a reduced impact on the environment and is more cost efficient in the long term.
  • Type of refrigerant – There are a wide range of refrigerants available, and manufacturers are constantly trying to improve their efficiencies. The widespread use of refrigerant type R32 is a good example of how the industry in playing a key role in reducing the environmental burden of its HVAC equipment. There is also a lot of legislation which needs to be taken into consideration when deciding on which system and which refrigerant to use.

Take a look at our design capabilities here.

Can my contractor produce any reports on the efficiency of my equipment?

Yes, the information for the report can be collected by your service engineer who can measure the power consumption and compare with the system output, thereby calculating the efficiency.

Is the industry and the government doing enough to improve the impact of air conditioning on the environment?

F-Gas legislation is driving continuous research, development and ultimately improvements in the efficiency plus use of more environmentally friendly refrigerants in air conditioning. This is having a positive impact and is an example of how legislation is driving manufacturers to improve.

However, many in the industry believe that there is still a lot that can be done especially in terms of energy consumption. There is a formula called TEWI (Total environmental warming impact) which is used to measure the environmental impact of air conditioning equipment during its lifespan. The following show the percentage of the impact.

97% = Energy consumed

3% = Refrigerant leakage

As you can see, it’s energy consumption which impacts the environment far greater however the only legislation with regards to air conditoning is in relation to refrigerants which makes up only 3% of the total.

Earlier in this article we touched on the energy consumption of air conditioning and the fact that the more expensive equipment is, often means more R&D has been invested. However upfront costs are more expensive and with no legislation to guide purchase decisions in this area, the user is often left with choosing the less efficient equipment.

Therefore, if you are a business that is invested in reducing your impact on the environment, it is really important that you take a long-term view on cost and energy efficiencies.

How can I find out more?

If you are looking to find out more about improving your impact on the environment or finding out more about your legal obligations, please get in contact with us here.

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