In drive to rid fridges and other products of harmful greenhouse gases, retailers must not lose focus on delivering energy efficiency, engineering firm Emerson advises
European retailers are already lagging behind targets to phase-out HFC emissions from fridges, air conditioning units, and other appliances, despite a UN treaty on curbing the powerful climate-harming gas having only been agreed by international governments a year ago, a new academic report today warns.
The UK last month became one of the first nations to begin ratifying the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol, a treaty update which was agreed by more than 150 countries to cut the production and trade of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by 85 per cent between 2019 and 2036.
HFCs were originally introduced into products in the 1990s as a replacement for CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) which were discovered to be damaging the Ozone layer. But while HFCs do not affect the Ozone layer they are estimated to have a global warming effect up to 4,000 times more damaging than CO2.
The Kigali deal is therefore expected to avoid close to 0.5C of worldwide average temperature increases by the end of the century, and as a user of many goods which emit HFCs the global retail sector is key to meeting the treaty’s goals.
According to a University of Birmingham report published today, an average UK supermarket can leak up to 25 per cent of its refrigerant charge annually, resulting in approximately 1,500 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions and producing the same environmental impact as the annual energy used by 165 homes.
However, the study – commissioned by US technology and engineering firm Emerson – found that while progress is being made, the retail sector has already fallen behind schedule in phasing out HFCs and replacing them with natural ingredients.
The report argues that in order to meet the Kigali HFC targets, supermarkets should take a “whole systems” approach that does not lose sight of the need to also improve the energy efficiency of refrigeration and air conditioning units.
Author of the report Professor Toby Peters, formerly CEO of cooling technology specialist Dearman, said it was crucial for supermarkets to properly rethink their store appliances taking environmental and efficiency benefits into account.
“Refrigeration systems introduced today could still be operating in 15 years’ time and it’s imperative that we grasp the once in a generation chance to deliver genuinely clean cold,” he said. “Given the size of heating and cooling demands within our society, this is essential as we transition to sustainable energy.”
Eric Winandy, director of integrated solutions in Emerson’s commercial and residential business, explained that the phase-down of HFCs presented both a challenge and an opportunity for the retail sector.
He also called on governments to support the move to more sustainable refrigeration by investing in R&D, as well as offering business incentives and penalties to accelerate the transition.
“Although there is certainly pressure for retailers to act quickly, we must be careful not to rush into choosing new refrigeration systems which eliminate HFCs, but miss the opportunity to maximise energy efficiency and other long term environmental benefits,” said Winandy. “After all, improved energy efficiency equates to tangible cost savings and improved profitability, so making the right environmental choice can also deliver multi-million Euro savings for retailers across Europe.”