Unlocking Savings: Economic Benefits of Tracking and Managing Refrigerants
Fugitive refrigerants are looming more in the spotlight lately for their sizable impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Perhaps less obvious, however, is that refrigerant leakage also drags on operational efficiency and bottom-line results for any business with significant cooling assets. Just one look at the size of the global refrigerant market—$6.6B in 2023, projected to reach $9B by 2028—puts that into perspective. With the cost of refrigerants increasing and the pervasiveness of leaks, related operational costs can add up fast. What’s more, failure of refrigerant systems can cause unanticipated operational disruptions with widening effects. But businesses that deploy technology that monitors cooling assets, actively manages leakage, and ensures compliance can optimize their infrastructure and yield savings.
Of the five main ways to reduce refrigerant emissions prescribed by Project Drawdown—reduce demand, transition to alternative refrigerants, increase refrigeration efficiency, control leakages, and ensure recovery and proper destruction of refrigerants at end of life—all rely on solid information about your cooling and refrigeration assets. Better tracking and managing information on refrigerants (e.g., quantities and types, usage, leakage and replacement rates) is crucial to reducing emissions and associated operational costs. And it can produce real savings. In fact, the EPA estimated that tightening leaks as part of their GreenChill program could save $108M annually for the supermarket industry alone.
Doing the Math
Commercial buildings, manufacturing, data centers, food and beverage, perishable goods transport, all rely heavily on refrigerants. As the cost of those refrigerants climb, the heat is on for ways to tame associated operational costs.
Though highly variable, typical annual refrigerant leakage is estimated at 7 to 12 percent, and some system losses can be as high as 30 percent.
In the supermarket industry, a typical refrigeration system holds a charge of about 4,000 pounds. Meanwhile, the EPA reports that a typical food retail store leaks an estimated 25 percent of refrigerant, or approximately 1,000 pounds annually. With 2023 prices of $12 to $80 per pound for conventional refrigerants, annual replenishment costs for a food retail store could range from $12,000 – $80,000.
And when considering the larger footprint of other types of commercial buildings, the magnitude of refrigerant losses from cooling can be even more astronomical. For instance, the average size of a commercial entity is about 12,000 square feet. With a typical leakage rate of 10 percent, refrigerant losses could amount to 2,500 pounds or more annually, at a cost of $30,000 to $200,000.
Another sore point: As demand for refrigerants grows, some are on their way to obsolescence, further driving cost increases. For instance, production and import of most hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) was phased out in 2020, including R-22, a common refrigerant still used in legacy air conditioners and refrigeration equipment.
In the future, purchasing reclaimed refrigerant—which is costly to produce— will be the only option to service existing air conditioners and commercial refrigeration equipment that use banned materials. The bottom line: Businesses should expect increasing costs for conventional refrigerants, and more pressure to consider system retrofits while taking action to trim leaks.
The Power of Proactive Management and Data-Driven Decisions
The good news is that enterprises can achieve savings in operational and capital expenses by rethinking how they manage their refrigerant asset ecosystem. The key lies in a proactive approach and deeper knowledge of how assets are performing.
Improving refrigerant management through accurate data capture can stem losses and return annual operational savings in several areas:
1) Slashing refrigerant replacement costs that are required to offset leakage
2) Lowering energy demand of cooling units
3) Reducing leakage testing and repair/replacement costs
4) Curbing the number of resources needed for system maintenance, and
5) Minimizing costly operational interruptions from unexpected system failures
Reliable data can inform better operational investments. With major capital needed to retrofit cooling and refrigeration systems—especially as more and more conventional refrigerants are banned—businesses can pace their rate of retrofit as part of a comprehensive asset management planning program. Quality intel helps companies hone decisions about putting operational funds into maintaining existing equipment versus making capital investments in new systems.
That’s because real-time data can detect acute leakage issues early, preventing costly losses of refrigerant, equipment downtime, and possible operational interruptions. Usage data over time can be used to detect chronic leaks for more prompt identification and repair. Most importantly, usage data is critical to help companies get out of reactive mode and better manage cooling assets. And that leads to getting out ahead with longer-term planning for more cost-effective repair, rehabilitation, and/or retrofit programs.
Energy Efficiency, Cost Reduction, and Compliance for the Win
When refrigerants are properly managed, refrigeration and cooling systems become more energy efficient, which translates into lower energy bills.
Plus, effective tracking aids in compliance with environmental regulations, relative to both refrigerant phase-out and GHG emissions. Having a solid handle on refrigerant inventory enterprise-wide—including refrigerants on the list to be phased out—prepares organizations for what’s on the horizon, versus triaging after a ban has already occurred and racking up fines. Penalties for violating refrigerant regulations are stiff. The Clean Air Act gives EPA the authority to assess fines of up to $37,500 per day for any violation of regulations.
Clear visibility into leakage issues also strengthens corporate positioning on sustainability reporting and compliance. Having accurate data and effective analyses bolsters confidence in disclosure reporting to the investment community and the public, as well as regulators driving new GHG reduction requirements.
Optimized Maintenance: A Better Bottom Line and Brand
With Trakref technology businesses are empowered to put best practices of HVAC maintenance into action.
- Track assets – monitor age, condition, use, and refrigerant type
- Track activity – know which resources are working on assets and where things stand with regard to compliance
- Predict leak rates accurately – control costs and extend the lifecycle of equipment
- Conduct regular review of systems based on their size (pounds of refrigerant)
- Monthly for large systems with 2000+ pounds
- Quarterly for system with 200 and 2,000 pounds
- Annual for systems with 50-200 pounds
- Build a budget based on replacement value
Those that track their refrigerants come out ahead in operational efficiency. Data can be used to optimize maintenance schedules, evaluate asset life and performance, and enable more predictive direction of resources to maximize asset operations. An important advantage as
planned maintenance is always cheaper than emergency repairs, and it enables smoother workflows.
Finally, transparent tracking and reporting of refrigerant usage and management boost corporate credibility. Well-managed refrigerant assets signal that a company is effective, competitive, and committed to reducing environmental impacts—with fewer surprises and better use of resources.