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HVAC - meeting international changes.

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4 Oct 2011

There's no arguing that sustainability is high on the agenda in the Middle East today. Industries and individuals alike are expected to play their part in reducing the overall environmental impact of the region. Adapting specialised practices, acquiring skills and adjusting to new technology must all be undertaken in order for any real impact to be felt.

The construction industry in particular has been subject to a slew of new regulations that are intended to ensure projects meet the new green agenda. But is everything that can be done really happening and what obstacles are slowing the progress to change?

Take the HVAC sector for instance, with air conditioning essential to productive modern life in the region due to the aggressive natural climate, this is one area where any environmentally-led changes can really make a positive impact. Local government regulations have targeted potential improvements in this sector, and as signatories to the Kyoto Agreement, the UAE and Qatar in particular have specific obligations to meet for which HVAC professionals can make a real difference.

One of the biggest issues with air conditioning is the refrigerants used. Both the Kyoto Protocol and Montreal Protocol recognise this, and under these agreements plans were put in place to ensure that the most damaging refrigerants be phased out.

The full force of these plans will hit the region over the next few years as the official deadlines for reductions and outright bans of certain refrigerants are soon to take effect, but is the local HVAC industry really ready to cope with the changes that this will bring?

In 2013 the GCC must put in place a plan to curb the import of refrigerants, with a cap at 2012 levels expected. Restrictions are already in place for certain refrigerants, but additions will be made to the current rules to ensure that the use of ozone depleting chemicals is minimised or completely eradicated.

Changes to local regulations will have a huge effect on the way future buildings are cooled, with the Abu Dhabi government for example stating the use of variable refrigerant flow units for new residential buildings and regulations coming into effect in Dubai for the use of thermal storage. Further improvements can be made simply by the choice of equipment.

Manufacturers are playing a part in easing engineers and HVAC system designers through the changes. Over the past few years the major air conditioning firms have invested huge sums in the research and development of new technology to maximise energy efficiency and minimise refrigerant use. Many new products and technologies have been released that have greatly improved operational efficiencies, while also using the newer, more environmentally friendly refrigerants, as is evident by the latest product exhibits at trade shows such as The Big 5.

New refrigerants are also in development, with environmentally improved versions and direct replacements expected to hit the market throughout the next few years.

But manufacturers are only one cog in a very big air conditioning wheel. In order to really reduce the amount of refrigerants consumed, the use, recycling and disposal of the gases for existing and new air conditioning systems must be considered. This will require training in both the handling and monitoring of refrigerant use.

Technicians and engineers working with refrigerant-based equipment need to fully understand how their actions can impact the overall environmental efficiency of a project. End-users also must play their part to ensure that their operations are meeting both international and local regulations.

A huge proportion of the refrigerants used are for maintenance purposes. And with the cost of refrigerants often minimal in the overall maintenance programme for a project, this is an area that has often been overlooked in the past. Little training has been given to ensure that potentially useful gases are recycled and few firms have monitored any leaks or potential system losses. A move towards life-cycle costing of plant is reducing such waste, but training of personnel in the recycling and removal would have a greater impact.

Once such precautions are in place, the next time you turn on your air conditioning you can surely smile with the knowledge that your green credentials are rising at the same time as your temperature is falling.

Written by Event Director, Andy White.

HVAC - meeting international changes.

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