Phil Wilkinson

13 March 2013 — The Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Airconditioning and Heating has finalised its discussion paper on the transition to low-emission heating, ventilation, airconditioning and refrigeration practices and technologies, with views around the transition anything but smooth sailing.

In his summary, project manager and technical editor Vince Aherne said the views around the transition were “varied and often conflicting”.

Some criticisms have suggested the industry cannot have this discussion until all of the data relating to the situation is defined and known, he said.

However, others have noted the idiom, “When is the best time to plant a commercial forest? Twenty years ago. But if you haven’t done it yet: now!”

In a way the industry is trying to rebuild or modify the aeroplane while flying it – not an ideal situation but really the only practical approach, particularly if the aeroplane is not allowed to land.

Another criticism is that the project is very large – too large – and the scope needs to be reduced, and the project broken down into much smaller steps. Again an idiom is offered, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” That has been the approach taken by AIRAH: one step at a time.

Mr Ahern said the AIRAH-proposed roadmap consisted of five pillars – Professionalism, Regulation, Information, Measurement, and Emission abatement.

  • See our story on the draft discussion paper – AIRAH’s challenge for a low emissions roadmap here
  • See our interview with AIRAH chief executive Phil Wilkinson here.

Each represented a different pathway, and all of the eventual industry-endorsed solutions can be listed in one of those categories, he said.

The pathways are:

  • Professionalism – The things that help to set the industry objectives and process for transition, including funding and engagement; strategy and policy; compiling and sharing data; and professionalising the industry through skills, training, licensing and registration.
  • Regulating – The things that relate to helping the HVAC&R industry to inform government policy and regulations, industry Codes, Australian Standards, and government programs.
  • Information – The things that relate to the information that can be provided to educate and inform end users and technical service providers about skills relating to energy efficiency and reducing emissions, knowledge, technologies, fee structures, design practices, and maintenance imperatives.
  • Measurement – The things that relate to helping industry and end users monitor, measure, rate, and benchmark HVAC&R performance, validate efficiency claims, and compare technology solutions,
  • Emission abatement – The practical things that are done to reduce emissions. These include product stewardship, incentives for new technology and innovation, system procurement, good/best- practice accreditation, incentivising low-emission interventions, maintenance for energy efficiency, and refrigerant containment.
Vince Aherne

Mr Aherne said the discussion paper was an open-source document, with extensive consultation with industry stakeholders, including government and end users.

It’s primary purpose was to facilitate the low-emission discussion and “to tease out of industry stakeholders their views on the solutions and actions that need to be implemented to assist the transition”.

There are several recurring themes: interaction with government, skills and training, licensing and registration, measurement and benchmarking, information validation and sharing. It’s generally agreed that professionalising the sector will improve the sector’s performance in terms of both economic, environmental sustainability and professional satisfaction.

There is a consensus that the HVAC&R industry could improve the pathways for emerging technologies. There are solutions proposed for new technology, but the industry also needs to address getting the most out of existing technologies, whether already installed, or for new projects. A validation of efficiency claims and comparison tools for new and existing technology are proposed.

System measurement, rating and benchmarking are heavily supported in the proposed solutions. Industry needs to use common (but sector-specific) measurement and performance rating tools and metrics so that designers and end users are able to compare system alternatives. Ratings need to be based on life-cycle assessments where practical. Better tools based on research and proven models will help position the industry as both forward-thinking and science-based.

Providing information to end users, HVAC&R technical service providers and related building trades and professionals is also the basis of many of the solutions proposed.

There is a significant role for government in developing evidence-based regulations and incentives. However, industry cautions that any government intervention must be evaluated and justified after its implementation. Licensing for trades and professional registration for engineers is also proposed as a pathway for professionalising the industry.

Mr Aherne said many solutions suggested a need for improved formal training for new industry entrants – at both TAFE/VET and university level – plus specific, technology-focused courses provided by industry, possibly with government support, for existing workers.

But, he said, perhaps the most important consideration would be the resourcing of any new initiatives with each endorsed solution needing to be turned into a project plan, with resources, costs and timelines estimated.

The paper is available here.