The Effect of Commercial Refrigeration on the Carbon Footprint

Refrigeration is a true lifesaver during sultry summer temperatures, and many of us can’t imagine our lives without air conditioning. However, since its inception many years back, the refrigeration industry has undergone a series of changes and developments that mostly stem from the harmful effects old-school and present-day refrigerants have on global warming.

There are many environmental concerns caused by the high GWP, or global warming potential of refrigerants. This has triggered different regulatory activities that aim to first limit, and then prevent the use of GWP HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) in the modern air conditioning industry. The cause for concern seems just, and the adverse effects if left unchecked could be severe.

What Affects The Carbon Footprint In Commercial Refrigeration?

The energy consumption of all the commercial refrigeration systems across the United States represented approximately 4% of total energy consumption in all commercial buildings in 2011. The largest portion of this consumption originates from the fossil fuels necessary for creating electricity to operate HVAC equipment.

As electricity is created at various power plants across the country, greenhouse gas emissions increase, which contributes, although indirectly, to climate change. On the other hand, commercial heating and cooling systems also directly contribute to climate change by leaking refrigerant into the atmosphere and by using refrigerants with GWP potential.

That is why there are increasing efforts around the world to phase down all use of refrigerants with high GWP potential. There are already many low-GWP refrigerants meant to be used in new and retrofitted systems. However, it’s not only the GWP that affects climate change. There are two additional factors to consider.

Energy Efficiency

The energy consumption of HVAC systems is the largest contributor to its global warming potential. This means that there is significant room for improvement regarding the carbon footprint of commercial heating and air conditioning systems by making them more energy efficient.

One of the key changes that would improve the efficiency of today’s HVAC systems would be to keep introducing advanced versions of low GWP refrigerants. There’s research that points out that a system using a CO2 blend is approximately 20% more energy efficient than the same or similar system using a HFC blend. Additionally, HFO heating and cooling systems report a 3% decrease in energy consumption when compared to their HFO alternatives.

Finally, many supermarkets across the United States have reported a 10% decrease in when changing their refrigerants from R-404A/R-22 to one of the refrigerants with low global warming potential. All this information clearly illustrates the importance of hastening the transfer to refrigerants with low GWP in order to reduce the environmental impact of different types of commercial heating and air conditioning systems.

Monitoring And Maintenance

Another aspect that is vital for ensuring energy efficiency of any commercial heating and air conditioning systems is adequate preventive and reactive maintenance. Some of the most common maintenance activities that your customers should be aware of in order to lower their system’s consumption and its carbon emissions include the inspection and correction of potential deficiencies with:

  • Door seals and gaskets
  • Motors
  • Compressors
  • Refrigerant leaks
  • Condenser and evaporator coils
  • Other vital system components

Poor system maintenance can significantly impact the consumption of a heating and cooling unit and increase its carbon footprint, causing greater harm to the environment. Poor maintenance impacts system operating capacity. Reduced capacity means that the system will use more power trying to perform the same tasks, increasing emissions.

Also, probably the biggest downside to poor maintenance is refrigerant leaks that directly contribute to global warming, especially if the refrigerant in the system is a high GWP blend. Proper maintenance is a necessity.

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