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UK unclear on refrigerant supply and prices next year

Allan Harper: “Uncertainties regarding refrigerant supply and pricing next year”

UK: One of the UK’s leading refrigerant suppliers has admitted that there are uncertainties regarding refrigerant supply and pricing in the early part of next year. 

Speaking at a Climalife UK webinar today, MD Allan Harper said that while the UK will be adhering to the European F-gas regulations post-Brexit, it is still unclear what the UK quota will be.

“What we’re not sure from the numbers point of view is what the final calculation will be in terms of CO2 tonnes equivalent,” he said. 

It is still unknown whether the UK’s quota will be more or less than it would have been if the UK had stayed within Europe.  

“Not withstanding the [quota] number, I speculate that it might not be easy for the refrigerant producers to manage the supply chain correctly in the beginning and we could see some delays in product being imported into the UK, both from an authorisation and border control delay point of view,” he said.

“Without the agreement on the final numbers, which will confirm the final framework, it will be difficult for them [the refrigerant manufacturers] at the moment to plan effectively. Realistically speaking, we could also anticipate some changes in pricing at the same time.” 

In addition to Brexit, he also reminded the webinar attendees that 2021 sees a further 29% cut in the available quota. This would amount to a total 45% reduction in quota from the original 2015 calculation. 

Faster transition

While lower GWP refrigerants are available to meet his target, Allan Harper maintained that the industry still needs to move a bit faster in adapting and adopting the new products and to move away from the higher GWP refrigerants. 

“Where in 2018 we saw a big shift to HFC/HFO blends and A2L refrigerants, more latterly we have seen a slowdown in the transition as pricing has decreased for the more common HFCs. This dynamic will put a lot of pressure on the quantities of refrigerant available and, quite frankly, if the market continues to purchase in the same way that it does today, there will not be enough product for the UK market next year.”

It is the refrigerant producers who will decide, dependent on their total quota, what quantities for each product they will place on the market. “You would therefore imagine that products with higher GWP values will be targeted pricing wise to encourage end users to move to much lower GWP refrigerants,” said Allan Harper. 

“The issue I guess the industry has in the main is that many of the new gases are mildly flammable, and are not suitable for retrofit options. So therefore, we will all be relying on new equipment for the newer gases.”

It is accepted that while some market sectors have and will move to new equipment using low GWP gases, others will stay where they are because they cannot retrofit or have no money for new equipment, so will be reliant on reclaimed refrigerants for servicing requirements. But what of the others? 

“It will be interesting, for instance, to see how some installers explain away recent R404A installations where in the future supply and pricing of service refrigerant will be very challenging,” Harper mused.

Responding to a question about supply and prices next year, Allan Harper singled out R410A, the standard refrigerant for VRF air conditioning systems, as a special case. R410A has a relatively high GWP but there isn’t currently a retrofit option available. “I think the producers have to be careful how they approach the market and the pricing mechanisms bearing in mind what we saw a couple of years ago,” he said. 

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