Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Taking the chill off
Manitoba businesses have less than two years to switch to environmentally friendly -- and costly -- cooling systems
There are about 80 of them listed in Manitoba, and two years from now, they'll all be switched over to safer alternatives or taken out altogether.
They're chillers, the heart of any air-conditioning or cooling system for large commercial, institutional and industrial buildings.
But the problem -- it's been known for almost 30 years, in fact -- is a substance contained in the chillers is behind the depletion of the Earth's ozone layer, the layer or shield in the atmosphere that protects life from the sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation.
The culprit is chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Since 1987, developed countries began the process of phasing them out and safely destroying their residue.
In Manitoba, CFC-containing chillers must either be switched over to a new, approved cooling system or decommissioned by Jan. 1, 2015, says Mark Miller, the executive director of the Manitoba Ozone Protection Industry Association (MOPIA).
"There is no excuse why anyone wouldn't know about the deadline," Miller says. "Originally, we had approximately 76 CFC chiller permits issued. To date, nearly 40 of these have been either decommissioned or retrofitted to a non-CFC operating refrigerant. Progress is surely being made."
MOPIA is the agency responsible for administering the Manitoba Ozone Depleting Substances Management Program and ensuring all building owners and people in the refrigeration/air-conditioning industry know about the deadline. That includes the Building Owners and Managers Association, the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society, the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute and the Refrigeration Air Conditioning Contractors Association (RACCA).
"CFCs are among the most harmful substances to the ozone layer," Miller says. "They have been phased out of production globally."
Most chillers manufactured before 1995 used CFC refrigerants. Developed countries stopped producing and importing CFC refrigerants in 1996. All United Nations-recognized nations have now ratified the Montreal Protocol, a treaty first signed in 1987 to phase out the production of chemicals that deplete the ozone layer.
All provincial government owned, operated, and maintained buildings under Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation (MIT) have already been converted except one in Winnipeg, which is to be decommissioned, a government spokesperson said.
"Most of the hospitals have already taken action and a short review shows only a couple remain to be done, with at least one being outside Winnipeg," Miller says.
He adds most provincial government departments and private building owners have known about the 2015 deadline for several years and have built the cost of refurbishment into their capital planning.
Replacement of CFC chillers isn't cheap.
It can cost anywhere from $200,000 for a smaller unit to more than $1 million for one in a multi-storey building.
"It's quite an expense to replace them," says Dave Derksen of Tech-Air Ltd., the local RACCA representative. "There are some manufacturers that are promoting refrigerant alternatives, to substitute the CFC refrigerant with an alternate refrigerant. That almost takes on a unique engineering aspect because when you do convert to alternate refrigerants there's always a change in performance of the machine."
The Montreal Protocol allows for replacement chillers to use hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) as a refrigerant, but only until 2030, when it too must be phased out.
Derksen says he's aware of some Winnipeg property owners who haven't switched over their CFC chillers because of the expense, hoping to keep them working until they have no choice.
"It's just the reluctance of the owner to change it," he says.
Miller says the cost of replacement will be no excuse to get around the 2015 deadline. By that time, certified technicians will also be prohibited from working on chillers that do not comply with the law. A technician caught servicing a CFC chiller after 2015 risks losing their certification and livelihood.
Miller adds the penalty for a building owner operating a CFC chiller after the deadline is a maximum fine of $500,000 for a first offence and $1 million for a second offence.
"The penalties are such that people will pay attention," he said. "They know if they don't take action, it'll be significant."
There's also no reason to delay switching over as a new, more energy-efficient chiller uses less electricity and by some estimates, can pay for itself in lower utility bills, improved reliability and lower maintenance costs in as little as five years.
Manitoba Hydro recommends a water-cooled chiller system that produces chilled water for use in an air conditioning system.
Hydro says such a system is typically 40 per cent more efficient than other systems. It offers incentives for water-cooled chiller installations for existing buildings that can save more than $10,000 a year in energy costs. The maximum eligible incentive is $250,000.
What is it? A chiller is a machine used in air-conditioning systems in large, multi-storey buildings like hotels, office buildings or hospitals. Chiller systems are designed to cool and control humidity to create a comfortable and more productive environment.
What does a chiller do? Basically, it removes heat from a liquid via a vapor-compression or absorption refrigeration cycle. The liquid can then be circulated through a heat exchanger to cool air or equipment as needed.
Are chillers bad? No, but the liquid used in older ones is. Many chillers use chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, long linked to the accelerated depletion of ozone in the Earth's stratosphere. They are being phased out in most developed countries, including Canada.
Manitoba, too? Yup. All CFC-based chillers are required by legislation to be decommissioned or retrofitted to an alternate refrigerant or more energy-efficient chiller by Jan. 1, 2015.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 18, 2013 J16