How to Keep Chile – and the Rest of the Planet – Chilled

by CCAC secretariat - 4 November, 2019
The world’s rapidly growing supply of refrigerators and air conditioners are warming the planet by sucking up energy and spewing greenhouse gases. Green refrigeration technology piloted could help the problem and businesses could make a buck in the process.

Today, when customers are shopping at some of Chile’s major supermarkets, instead of hearing product specials announced over the intercom, they hear how their food––and the planet––are keeping cool.

In Chile, like in many parts of the world, refrigeration and air conditioning make up 95 percent of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) spewed into the atmosphere. They’re a group of potent greenhouse gases with substantial global warming potential­­––the most common HFC is 1,430 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide per unit of mass.

Worse yet, the energy cooling requires takes up 17 percent of the world’s electricity, making it a lethal double threat. The problem is only set to increase: Air conditioners, which take up the largest slice, are expected to triple by 2050, from 3.6 billion cooling appliances to 9.5 billion. That increase will require the electrical capacity of the United States, the European Union, and Japan combined. The problem isn’t just volume though: of all the air conditioners sold in 2018, most were 2-3 times less efficient than they could be.

That’s why pairing the phase down and elimination of HFCs with energy efficiency interventions is so important. In fact, if the two are done in tandem, as much as 1 degree Celsius of global warming could be avoided.

In light of those potential gains––and losses––the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) established the Efficient Cooling Initiative. It aims to increase government knowledge on energy efficient technologies, catalyze resources for developing countries to enhance energy efficiency, and trial alternative refrigerants and technologies­­––all while helping governments and private sector companies phase out HFCs.

Chile changes the game

The transcritical CO2 refrigeration system used in the demonstration project in Valdivia, Chile

In Chile, the seeds of change were sown in 2017, when the Ozone Unit of Chile’s Ministry of Environment, with funding from CCAC and support from the United Nations Development Programme supported the demonstration of a new green refrigeration technology at Jumbo Supermarkets in the city of Valdivia in southern Chile. Known as transcritical CO2 refrigeration, the technology doesn’t just avoid HFCs, it uses 20 percent less energy.

“So you can make a good business decision, get a good return on your investments, and also you get a technology that’s very good for the environment,” said Pier Zechetto, the CEO of Portan, which supplies the technology. “I think that makes it exciting––it’s like having a cheap car that runs with no fuel and doesn’t make pollution––you don’t find that kind of thing happening every day.” 

Zechetto’s win-win scenario is part of why two supermarket chains, Cencosud and Tottus, jumped on board, announcing they’d use the technology in all their new and updated stores. Nine supermarkets now use the green technology––in addition to five food processing factories and five additional projects in the works.

“So you can make a good business decision, get a good return on your investments, and also you get a technology that’s very good for the environment.”
Pier Zechetto

How did we get here?

The irony of HFCs is that their proliferation started with one of the world’s biggest environmental successes. The Montreal Protocol is a 1987 global agreement that led to an over 99 percent reduction of ozone-depleting chemicals, among them those used for refrigeration. Without the actions taken under the protocol, the ozone was expected to collapse by 2050.

However, HFCs were the substitute. Luckily, the 2016 Kigali Amendment pushed by the CCAC is a commitment to slash HFCs by 80 percent over the next 30 years. One of CCAC’s efforts to support the amendment was its HFC Initiative, which helped Chile develop its HFC inventory, and define the contours of its cooling issues.

The Biarritz Pledge for Fast Action on Efficient Cooling jumps off of the success of these measures by committing to immediate international action to improve energy efficiency. This pledge could double the effects of the Kigali Amendment and save nearly $3 trillion in investment and operating costs by 2050 just for air conditioning equipment.                                                

By 2050, 68 percent of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas. Combined with population growth, that could add 2.5 billion people to cities. That comes with increased demand for cooler homes, more supermarkets requiring industrial freezers, and immediate, life-saving measures vaccine refrigeration.

Luckily, there’s a variety of ways to implement the pledge. CCAC’s efficient cooling initiative advocates for increasing the information customers and policy makers have access to, creating incentives such as tax schemes or rebates, and limiting imports of inefficient equipment are all proven strategies for increasing energy efficiency.

A win-win solution

Chile’s green refrigeration system is an example of these types of interventions. Still, Zechetto says it was sometimes a tough sell.

“It’s not simple to convince people, it’s a new technology; the decision-makers and the investors don’t want to put the money in something that’s not been proved yet,” he says. “It took me like two years to convince the first customers.”

That hesitancy is exactly why CCAC is investing in demonstrations. CCAC has followed up by supporting demonstrations in Jordan in 2018 when AlSalam supermarkets in Amman replaced its HFC-22 refrigerators with a new transcritical CO2 system. In India, CCAC supported another demonstration in the mobile air-conditioning sector. In many ways, solving the problem is more complicated in these countries because their hotter temperatures mean that cooling takes a lot more energy.

“There’s always resistance if you come up with something new even if you tell them it’s something better,” says Franziksa Menten of UNIDO, CCAC’s implementing partner in Jordan. 

However, once supermarkets begin using the technology, both Menten and Zechetto have found the response of supermarket owners to be overwhelmingly positive.

“The supermarket owners are very happy because it’s better for the environment––even though to be honest, this isn’t their first consideration,” says Menten. “They are a business and the environment is maybe not their first concern.” 

It’s why it’s so important that this technology provides an immediate financial return for the businesspeople implementing it. This technology can do exactly that, not just in reduced energy costs but also in reduced maintenance costs and reduced food waste. In Jordan, the supermarket reported that they saved $20,000 in maintenance alone in one year.

“It makes for very loyal customers once its proven to them that it is good for their pocket and it is good for the environment,” adds Zechetto.

Five more supermarkets in Jordan have expressed interest in the technology, as well as stores in Saudi Arabia and Dubai.

It’s a lot of progress to stem from relatively humble beginnings––CCAC’s HFC inventory, its Efficient Cooling Initiative, and a single demonstration at a Chilean supermarket. The collective power of small actions, however, may be exactly the climate lesson the world needs.