The Australian government has published a comprehensive report on the refrigeration and air conditioning (RAC) industry in Australia while also offering predictions of industry activity by 2030. RDM have summarised this report to offer a technological and economic snapshot, highlighting the key information and insights.
The Current Australian RAC Industry
The refrigeration and air conditioning (RAC) industry is an essential part of the Australian economy. Without its services, major cities and the agricultural, telecommunications and health sectors would struggle to operate. Specialised and energy-intensive RAC services are also vital for the operation of the country’s hospitals and pharmaceutical supply lines. Furthermore, RAC systems maintain tightly controlled operational temperatures for the thousands of data centres that run their telecommunications, internet, banking and finance systems.
Perishable food production in Australia in 2016 was worth an estimated $38 billion, with total expenditure on refrigerant estimated to be approximately $161 million.
Refrigerated and frozen foods pass through tens of thousands of cool rooms and are served and sold through hundreds of thousands of restaurants, grocery stores, takeaways, more than 4,000 supermarkets, thousands of clubs, hotels, and hundreds of pre-made meal and home delivery enterprises.
In 2016, more than 2,955 tonnes of HCFCs and HFCs were lost to air as a result of leaks from the supply lines and operating equipment. This implies an average leak rate across the entire refrigerant bank of around 5.8% per annum, although the leak rates in the model vary greatly across all of the equipment categories: from 1% per annum for domestic refrigeration to as much as 15% in some segments of the refrigerated cold food chain, such as in transport refrigeration units.
RAC technology in all its forms is the single largest electricity consuming class of technology in Australia. There are more than 54 million individual pieces of RAC equipment operating in Australia that consumed more than an estimated 61,000 GWh of electricity in 2016. This cost more than $12.62 billion.
Irrespective of the relatively small annual changes to electricity production in the two comparative years, overall electricity consumption by RAC technology increased by around 3.4% as compared to 2012.
Australian HVACR equipment is imported, or designed and manufactured, sold installed and serviced by more than 20,000 businesses across the country. One useful measure of the number of businesses or contractors operating in this industry is the 18,144 Refrigerant Trading Authorities (RTAs) issued by the Australian Refrigerant Council (ARC) by the end of 2016. The main business types recorded in the licensing database are 49% automotive air conditioning, 43% stationary air conditioning and 5% domestic refrigeration.
In 2016, approximately $38 billion was spent on purchasing, installing, maintaining and operating RAC equipment and services in 2016. Owners of such RAC equipment further spent an estimated $14 billion to pay for the electricity and the liquid fuels required to run mobile AC and mobile refrigeration systems. This total expenditure on RAC was equivalent to 2.3% of national GDP in 2016.
In 2016, the RAC industry provided 2.5% of total employment in Australia (CHF2 1.5%), with around 300,000 people employed in more than 20,000 businesses operating in the industry. The activity of this highly skilled and diverse licensed workforce generates employment of nearly 298,400 jobs.
The refrigerated cold food chain is supplied with perishable foods via a fleet of 38,000 refrigerated vehicles, equating to approximately 76,569 jobs.
The average hourly rate for RAC service technicians with greater than 5 years’ experience was $41.20 in 2017, equating to $85,696.
Australian RAC Industry in 2030
Below are the top predictions made by the Australian Government on the industry in 2030.
- AC is predicted to fall from the current 8,000 tonnes presently in use to around 305 tonnes still employed by 2030. The Mobile Air Conditioning (MAC) bank is conversely projected to grow to more than 13,000 tonnes in 2030, spread across more than 24.7 million vehicles at that time.
- Supermarkets are projected to cut their direct emissions by more than half from a 2016 estimate of more than 720,000 tonnes CO2e to less than 350,000 tonnes CO2e by 2030. This may be a result of the highly concentrated Australian supermarket industry which has been shown to commit to efficiency and environmental stewardship in the last decade. This has generated a quite rapid and accelerating trend towards refrigerant leak reduction and transition to low GWP refrigerants.
- Refrigerated transport services in Australia are increasing, not just with increases in population and the requirements of delivering chilled foods to new shopping centres in new suburbs, but also driven by increased Australian food exports and on the back of food industry trends such as growth in sales of home deliveries, prepared meals, and large catering businesses winning work outsourced from aged care homes, hospitals, etc.
- In 2016, usage was approximately 3,535 tonnes of HCFCs and HFCs, plus around 770 tonnes of natural refrigerants (577 tonnes of ammonia, 120 tonnes of CO2 and 72 tonnes of HC). This use of HCFCs and HFCs is projected to decline by almost 24% to around 2,700 tonnes of refrigerants in 2030.
- A refrigerant technician being called out to repair or maintain any one of the dozens of formats of self-contained refrigeration equipment in a commercial setting in 2030 has to be prepared to deal with any one of seven different refrigerants as compared to having to work with just two main Class A1 non-flammable refrigerants (HFC-134a and HFC-404A) only a few years ago.
*This report excludes gas heating and evaporative cooling from the analysis and in most cases does not include fan energy in ventilation.
*The estimate of expenditure on stationary air conditioning systems is conservative and does not include the wide range of ancillary devices and mechanical services such as building management systems, pumps, etc., essential to the operation of large space cooling chiller systems.
*RTAs are required business authorisations for a business to buy, sell and store refrigerant.
*Assuming that driving and keeping each of the 38,000 refrigerated vehicles on the road keeps two people employed full-time.
* The average hourly rate for RAC service technicians with greater than 5 years’ experience was $41.20 in 2017, equating to $85,696 based on a 40-hour week and 52 weeks with no overtime and bonuses.
*The Mobile Air Conditioning (MAC) bank is projected to grow to more than 13,000 tonnes in 2030, spread across more than 24.7 million vehicles at that time. This projection assumes a very low take up of electric vehicles over the projection period.
*The refrigerated cold food chain (RCFC) stretches from farm shed to local food retailers, which in many retail and hospitality settings is incorporated into bespoke cabinets and equipment formats, and employs a diverse bank to suit the wide range of temperature conditions (typically from -25oC to +7oC) and outputs required.