The State of Refrigerant Management in the US in 2019
By Will Stordeur, Product Manager for Refrigerant Management, Accruent
Due to the increasing EPA section 608 regulations coming in 2019 and 2020, refrigerant management has seen a recent uptick in attention. In 2016, new rules were put in place by the EPA to further regulate and reduce errant emissions. This legislation was enacted during the Obama administration.
These regulations enacted in 2016 are now taking wide effect, the majority starting on January 1, 2019. With the new EPA administration in place under the Trump presidency, there have been discussions of repealing these enhanced regulations to opt for retailers to have fewer restrictions around ozone depleting substances.
This is causing confusion for many businesses who are unsure how to proceed. Should they spend money and resources getting ready to prepare for these new guidelines? Or should they wait to see if the EPA will eventually strike down these guidelines or roll them back? When looking at how long legislation like this takes to be enacted, it looks like time may be running out for the current administration to make these changes.
As of January 1st, 2019, all organizations with systems containing 50 lbs. of refrigerant or greater are exposed to these regulations. Organizations that have not already acted on this are behind and potentially at risk. This risk includes up to $37,500 dollars per day, per non-compliant system—as well as mandatory upgrades of equipment—not to mention years of follow-up audits.
Regulations to Watch in 2019
1. Lower Leak Rate Thresholds
Leak rates must be lowered across all categories of refrigerant including comfort cooling, commercial refrigeration and industrial process refrigeration.
Comfort cooling needs to be reduced from a 15% annual rate to 10%, industrial refrigeration from 35% to 30% and commercial from 35% to a much lower 20%.1 Commercial refrigeration not only assumes the biggest percent drop, but they are the most exposed to having multiple systems of 50lbs or more. With the average supermarket housing around 3500 lbs. across multiple systems, there is always potential for leaking and thus non-compliance.
Healthcare, commercial real estate, corporate offices and education campuses are exposed to these reductions as well. Having systems that fall into the thresholds of size and use types can leave facilities open to regulatory claims. Comfort cooling has tighter restrictions as well, with only a 10% leak rate threshold. Typical HVAC units come factory sealed, but also contain refrigerants under higher pressures, which can mean higher leak rates per occurrence. Once a system leaks, it will continue to face challenges.
2. Managing Additional Types of Refrigerant
Operators must deal with additional refrigerant types to track and maintain, as the regulations now include systems with F-gas variants. F-gas, meaning HFC or hydrofluorocarbons, are some of the most widely used refrigerants in the market today due to their prior exemptions from the law and their relatively low per pound cost.
Looking at customer data from Accruent’s vx Sustain application shows that around 36% of systems are in the F-gas classification.
3. Track All Efforts Related to Maintaining Leak Rates
These new regulations also require operators to track all efforts related to maintaining a system’s sub-threshold leak rate. Any system that hits the 125% leak rate in a calendar year is required to be self-reported to the EPA, along with all documentation related to work done on that system. That report is to be shared with the EPA on March 1st of the following year. The first year this is mandatory is 2020 on all 2019 data starting from January 1, 2019.
4. Follow-Up Inspections
The new guidelines introduce immediate and periodic leak inspections to verify a system is back to sub-threshold leak rates. Depending on the size of the system, operators are subject to an annual or quarterly inspection in order to verify that systems have stayed in repair and not leaked further beyond the equipment type threshold. 50 lbs. to 500 lbs. systems require annual inspections as soon as they hit their threshold, and any system over 500 lbs. will require quarterly inspections. Inspections can cease once a system has stayed below the leak rate for a 12-month cycle. This adds operational discipline to track and inspect individual system across multiple sites, banners or geographical locations on time.
Choosing the Right Solution
Beyond compliance, the new EPA 608 regulations attempt to keep ozone depleting substances—and other chemicals related to climate change—in check. These regulations will also help drive value from the point of view of maintenance. The record keeping required to track and maintain these systems will provide great insight to what systems are performing poorly and costing operators money. When an operation goes over leak thresholds, it can usually be attributed to a handful of systems that should be replaced.
Having a solution that keeps your organization in compliance and highlights poor performing equipment is where you will find the most value in your maintenance regimen. Refrigerant has become a double-edged sword, as it can leave operators open to regulator fines, and increase repair and replace costs when not well monitored.
Even if the regulations are repealed or modified, other jurisdictions are looking into applying their own regulations to keep ozone depleting substances in check. California has been utilizing its own rules that mirror most of the EPA’s 2016 update—in some ways even exceeding them—since 2011. New York and Maryland have also begun discussions around creating their own regulations in wake of the Trump administration’s change in direction. Managing refrigerants is a responsibility that is not going away any time soon and delaying will only open organizations to legal risks, negative PR and fines.