The event on the F-gas Regulation (EU) No. 517/2014 scheduled February 2, 2018 had been eagerly awaited: In the autumn of 2017, associations of the refrigeration and air conditioning industry had already written an open letter to the German Federal Government on the difficult situation of small- and medium-sized businesses in Germany due to rising prices and dwindling availability of refrigerants. The information event was organised by the Federal Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt; UBA), on behalf of the Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMUB). The aim was to exchange information and experiences on the effects of the EU F-gas Regulation between policymakers and players involved in the EU refrigerant market.
After the introduction by Wolfgang Plehn (Federal Environment Agency, UBA) and welcoming remarks by Christian Meineke (Federal Ministry for the Environment, BMUB), Arno Kaschl (EU Commission, DG CLIMA) elaborated on the current state of the implementation of the EU F-gas Regulation 517/2014. He referred to the quota allocation rules set out in the Annex of the F-gas Regulation and emphasized that the HFC quantities placed on the market in recent years have already declined more sharply than required by the HFC phase-down.
In 2016, the utilization of quotas for bulk ware was only 77%, so that the real reduction is smaller than it initially seems. Also, authorisations for imports of pre-charged equipment that have already been obtained in recent years will act as a buffer this year, providing some relief in implementing the current reduction. However, the introduction of climate-friendly technologies as well as the recycling of HFC gases and strict compliance with measures for leakage control must be taken forward.
The HFC price monitoring survey assigned by the EU Commission shows that a clear price signal from the phase-down has only been noticeable on the market during the last year. Therefore, some market participants were surprised by the rapid price increases. It was also pointed out that the refrigerant market is currently in a transition phase, which needs to be mastered and requires quick reactions from all participants. It should be noted that the F-Gas Regulation does not provide for a rapid "troubleshooting tool" and that amendment of the F-gas Regulation is only possible through co-decision, a process that takes a very long time.
Andrea Voigt (European Partnership for Energy and the Environment, EPEE) then presented the so-called “Gapometer”, a model for reality analysis, which is a sectored strategy for the implementation of the EU F-gas Regulation and the HFC phase-down. However, also gaps are shown between the reality and the required reduction of HFC quantities (in CO2 equivalents) in Europe. It became clear that there is a need for action especially on the part of equipment manufacturers and end users, that alternatives with a low global warming potential (GWP) are still being used to insufficient extent, and that awareness must urgently be created with regard to their applications.
Kerstin Martens (Federal Environment Agency, UBA) finally presented an analysis of the HFC consumption in Germany based on surveys by the Federal Statistics Office. In Germany, according to the Environmental Statistics Act, since 2005 use of HFCs has been recorded by application. It was found that R404A and other high-GWP refrigerants (GWP > 2500) were in 2016 also used for first fill of stationary refrigeration and air conditioning systems. For refill, a decrease in the use of high-GWP refrigerants is therefore not expected in the coming years. Looking ahead to the HFC availability in 2018, some participants were startled as less than half of the quantities used in 2016 will be available for the first fill of stationary refrigeration systems.
A panel discussion with Arno Kaschl (EU Commission), Andrea Voigt (EPEE), Hans Verolme (Environment Investigation Agency), Frank Heuberger (Federal Guild Association of the German Refrigeration Trade; BIV) und Harald Conrad (Westfalen AG) followed in the afternoon. On the basis of the previously presented situation, positions were to be clarified and solutions sought together.
Frank Heuberger (BIV) complained about major knowledge deficits at the level of plant operators concerning the requirements of the F-gas Regulation as well as lack of awareness of necessary leak tests. As a result, leaks are often noticed only in case of an accident, which then leads to the total loss of the refrigerant. Insufficient knowledge is also a problem at the level of technical planners who would often still write out purchase orders that include R404A systems. These groups need to be addressed more. Stricter prohibitions in the regulation could have helped. Moreover, building regulations and a shortage of skilled workers with regard to natural refrigerants constitute significant barriers.
Harald Conrad (Westfalen AG) mentioned the current existence threatening situation of some operators resulting from the sharp increase of refrigerant prices. Recycling and reclamation of refrigerants, which is offered, inter alia, by his company, is of fundamental importance for the realization of the HFC phase-down. However, the currently low return of refrigerant containers indicates that service companies and operators might have stored HFC stocks. In the coming year, the refrigerant market is expected to learn about a number of new products as innovation development is currently very dynamic.
Hans Verolme (Climate Advisers Network; represented Environment Investigation Agency) said that the F-gas Regulation, in his view, represented a “horse-trading” as it helped some companies to generate high profits. This money could have been better used to promote innovation. A quick and more radical transition to natural refrigerants without the interim use of medium-GWP gases is also urgently needed.
Andrea Voigt (EPEE) explained that the industry had been fighting hard to avoid bans as main elements of the F-gas Regulation. Due to the strong diversification of the refrigeration and air-conditioning industry, there are very different requirements so that the HFC phase-down was preferred as a flexibile mechanism. She also presented positive examples of the implementation of the F-gas Regulation in some EU member states, such as the detailed equipment register in Hungary, the reporting database on equipment and refill quantities in Poland and the STEK-System in the Netherlands, a forerunner of the EU F-gas Regulation. Arno Kaschl (EU-Commission) pointed out that there is still enormous saving potential to be raised. Creating awareness and providing advice should continue to be in focus. In this context, the UBA referred to an internet-based advisory service on natural refrigerants, which is expected to be available from spring 2018.
Association representatives finally asked about the availability of refrigerants, by explicitly addressing gas producers. These stated that all low-GWP refrigerants were available in sufficient quantities. Removing the high-GWP refrigerants R404A and R507 from the manufacturer’s product portfolio could be seen as “self-defense measure” to focus on alternatives and efficiency gains. In the future, refrigerants with the lowest possible GWP should be used. However, with a view to the use of A2L/A3 refrigerants new concepts for equipment are yet to be developed.
Conclusion: The event clearly showed the conflicting views of policymakers and industry. While the effects of the F-gas Regulation on HFC consumption, emissions and the price signal were welcomed by authorities, industry highlighted uncertainties regarding future HFC availability, capacity and skill shortages, knowledge deficits and legal hurdles. Since a change of the current legal situation is not foreseeable, industry will need to make efforts to adapt to the effects of the F-gas Regulation in the near future. The associations confirmed their readiness to contribute constructively through own measures to a successful implementation process. One aspect in particular was repeatedly emphasized during the event: One must create awareness, at all levels, in all sectors, in order to be able to realize the given HFC reduction steps.
The presentations of the infoday are available on the website of the German Federal Environment Agency.