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How the HFC Phase-Down Impacts Refrigerant in 2023

The ongoing effort to curb climate change has led to new regulations that contractors need to know. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates the use of refrigerants in HVAC systems through its Significant New Alternative Policy (SNAP) program, began an “HVAC phase-down” process in 2021.


The process focuses on reducing the consumption of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, which have a notoriously high global warming potential (GWP). By some estimates, HFCs – R-410a in particular – have nearly 1000x the global warming potential as carbon dioxide, and environmental experts are doing everything they can to remove them from the HVAC equation. This article explains where we are now and what to expect in the coming years.



The HVAC Phase-down Timeline

Federal agencies recognize that phasing out high-GWP materials is not an overnight process, and the SNAP program lays out a roadmap to reducing potentially-harmful refrigerants. Here are the key milestones (past and future):

2021 – The AIM Act

The Aim Act, part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, directed the EPA to begin phasing down HFC production in the U.S. by 85% over the next 15 years. The agency placed restrictions on the consumption and production of some HFC refrigerants and developed a roadmap for the future of reduction. (1)

2023 – Restrictions on HFC production and consumption take effect

Further restrictions on HFC production and consumption took effect in 2023. No more new systems that use R-410a will be built. With the goal of lower global warming potential, new systems will not use R-410A, instead using lower GWP alternatives such as R32 and R-454B. As of this time, exact dates are yet to be confirmed. (2)


Goals and Benchmarks – Additional restrictions to drive down HFCs to under 50%

The EPA’s plan hopes to reduce HFCs to <15% of baseline by 2036. In 2023, the goal is a 10% reduction, and by the end of 2028, the EPA is aiming for a 40% reduction.


Allowances

The EPA recently issued allowances for 2023, which are at the same level as in 2022 per the phase-down schedule. However, the number of entities receiving allowances next year will increase slightly. These allowances will be valid between January 1 and December 31, 2023, and represent the privilege granted to an entity to produce or import regulated substances in that year.(3)


Learn more about the details of application-specific allowances on the EPA’s website.


What HVAC Contractors Need to Know

The HFC phase-down will slowly (but surely) change how contractors must operate when purchasing and installing air conditioners and heat pumps. In the past, refrigerant transitions increased the demand for unit replacement ahead of the transition and higher demand in the replacement market after making the transition. This results from the higher cost of new systems and the unknowns of the new refrigerant. There will likely be two refrigerants replacing R-410A: R-32 and R-454B. (5)


Unfortunately, contractors cannot retrofit existing equipment to use refrigerants with lower emissions, meaning nearly all buildings will eventually need to update their systems at some point in the next decade.


In addition to keeping a close eye on HFC consumption, finding HFC alternatives may be beneficial at this time. For example, utilizing natural refrigerants like CO2 and ammonia or low-GWP alternatives like hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) can help HVAC contractors prepare for a future with refrigerant restrictions and regulations.


How Manufacturers Are Reacting

HVAC manufacturers are currently designing and building systems that use refrigerant with a lower GWP. Daikin for example, is developing heat pumps and AC systems that are compatible with R-32, a more environmentally-friendly refrigerant.


Because most existing systems still rely on R-410a, the refrigerant will remain available for equipment repairs for at least the next decade. However, because no new heat pumps or AC systems will use R-410a, manufacturers are searching for a low-cost, low-GWP alternative.


Prepare for the Future with Johnstone Supply

Keeping up with evolving energy and climate regulations is challenging. Fortunately, the lengthy HFC phase-down timeline allows contractors to prepare for the future.


Contact us online or stop by a Johnstone Supply store near you to see how we can help your business succeed. We’re here to provide the refrigerant products and insights you need to remain compliant in the ever-changing regulatory environment.


Sources

2- https://fieldedge.com/blog/2023-hvac-regulations/

5- https://us-ac.com/usac-news/r410a-phasedown/


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