How do we change the culture of an industry?


04 July 2024

Miriam Rodway, Institute of Refrigeration (IOR) and TICR communications lead, examines the trends revealed to date by the Transport, Industrial & Commercial Refrigeration project led by London South Bank University.

One year ago, the TICR (Transport, Industrial & Commercial Refrigeration) project set out to improve our understanding of the emissions from these critical cooling sectors first by estimating the total volume by sector and secondly by conducting site investigations to identify the main sources of direct (refrigerant leakage) and indirect (energy use) emissions.  

The principle being that you must be able to measure your start point in order to be able to more accurately track the impact of measures taken to reduce emissions – whether this is on a national basis or business site by site.  The project team, led by London South Bank University, have now nearly completed their detailed desk research and data analysis as well as having conducted over 50 site-based energy inspections.  

The project focuses on six distinct sectors - transport, large commercial, industrial cold stores, datacentres, food/drink manufacturing and chemical/pharmaceuticals. There are some very interesting trends beginning to emerge, and these findings will eventually be the basis of recommendations for end users and policy makers to help make progress towards Net Zero.  

1. Cross sector issues are emerging

There is a lot more in common between the six individual sectors that the project has focused on than was originally expected.  Despite the sectors being very differently organised and operated the same issues came up repeatedly - as described below.  This shows that there is much that can be learned from other sectors using refrigeration technologies, and that sharing of approaches and technologies could be very useful.

2. The information gap

This was one of the most immediately challenging aspects of this work.  Whilst researchers were able to identify high level data to estimate energy consumption and emissions on a national level, or even by sector under the Climate Change Agreement, there is very little detail of where the emissions are coming from. For example published data suggests that the food and drink manufacturing sector accounts for 17% of the total turnover of UK manufacturing and 13% of carbon emissions for that sector – whilst more recent reports indicate that their overall emissions are reducing particularly direct emissions (Scope1) as a result of improved containment, but as they do not submeter the energy consumption from refrigeration processes it is difficult to estimate whether this aspect of their emissions (Scope2) is increasing or decreasing.

Nevertheless, emerging data from our research is indicating that cooling accounts for 7% of the sectors emissions so it is important that this is addressed directly. The site surveys carried out identified that most sites do not have any submetering of power used by their refrigeration systems and do not use monitoring systems that would allow them to evaluate the impact of control strategies or manage component functioning or impact of replacement.  End users are therefore not sufficiently well informed to manage current emissions or identify potential savings from improved practices or new systems.

3. Inconsistent practices

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Good practice is not being applied consistently. In spite of requirements such as F Gas Refrigerant management obligations or voluntary agreements such as the European Code of Conduct for Data Centres, many of the sites surveyed did not put into practice processes that have been proven to reduce emissions – both direct and indirect. End users didn’t have access to F gas logs at site level for example and as a result were not monitoring refrigerant use as an indicator of poor system performance.  A philosophy of maintaining systems for reliability rather than identifying opportunities to maximise efficiency was apparent across all sectors. A good example was the finding that simple tasks such as regularly cleaning a condenser could achieve a power saving of up to 24% and yet this is not being done regularly, thoroughly or in some cases correctly.  Up to date guidance on how to achieve efficiency is needed and will be just one of the published outcomes of this project.

4. Using new technology to best effect

Lots of technical solutions are available. The project has been exploring the potential for new technologies and approaches to help end users to reduce energy and improve refrigerant containment. There are many such technologies available and many of them are not expensive and do not require major system change such as strip curtains or doors, variable speed fans and high efficiency compressors. However they have in some cases not been applied correctly and so are not achieving the potential efficiencies promised. In other cases for example in the pharmaceutical sector, systems had not been modified to take into account changes in the process requirements, they had repeatedly be been changed to adapt to the use of different refrigerants without being optimised for efficiency, and no overhaul of the system had taken place over a significant period of time other than having components replaced for essential service work.

The TICR project will be producing an innovation matrix later this year to help identify potential energy saving solutions such as use of heat recovery, integration of renewables, low GWP refrigerant options etc. There can be a bewildering range of technical solutions available but there is a growing resource of case studies to show where and how these have been successful applied.  The need to optimise systems should also be prioritised when systems require service or other essential changes.

5. System owner knowledge gaps

Lack of knowledge and understanding is a barrier to emissions reduction for many system owners.  With most sites not having a specialist refrigeration engineering expert in place they are reliant on contractors with whom they are not in regular contact and who are often changing repeatedly.  The project strongly recommends that end users or system managers should undergo training to ensure they have a basic awareness of how the system operates and how maximising operating parameters can have a positive effect efficiency.  TICR is planning to provide some training type resources for non-engineering professionals as part of its outcomes later this year.

6. Behaviour change

Behaviour is a critically important factor. End users need to be more proactive in managing their refrigeration equipment. It is anticipated that the results of the project that will be presented as Guidance Documents, Benchmarking Reports and Technology Roadmaps will help end users realise the importance of managing their refrigeration systems effectively to achieve their net zero targets and objectives.

7. Lots of missed opportunities

In general, the research is identifying many missed opportunities to reduce both indirect and direct emissions across all sectors.  A co-ordinated approach backed up with policy recommendation may help to point the way forward. The TICR project is continuing to work closely with industry groups on how these findings can support businesses to reduce costs and improve environmental performance.  

Later this year there will be a series of TICR talk webinars to explore findings and recommendations for each of the sectors. Accompanying each will be the publications of new Guidance.  As this project is funded by Government (DESNZ) the results are expected to feed into future action plans and policy discussion such as cooling outlook documents that the UK may produce.  

In the meantime, findings so far are providing evidence of what the refrigeration sector has always known - that if a refrigeration system is designed and installed correctly at the outset and the end user has in place appropriate service, maintenance and management practices, then that system will help them to reap significant energy benefits for the life of that plant – and that might be the next 20 years.