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Climate, cooling and changing needs of business

26 June 2023

Rising cooling needs are making summers more expensive for UK businesses

Human-induced climate change has led to increasingly hotter summers in the UK. July 2022 saw the highest temperatures on record, and 7 out of the 10 hottest temperatures were recorded since 2003. You can read the Met Office findings on their website here.

What’s compounding this is urban infrastructure. UK buildings are traditionally constructed to address cold and damp conditions. The prevalence of concrete and asphalt surfaces trap and absorb heat, causing a ‘heat island effect’ where local temperatures soar. Office blocks are architecturally styled to prioritise large glass windows that let more light in; a great asset to combat the winter blues, but a growing concern in the increasingly hotter summers.

The result is even higher temperatures than rural regions, meaning densely populated urban areas face an intensified need for cooling, putting further strain on the electricity grid.

What are the technologies used for cooling?

Modern buildings can compensate for heat with different cooling technologies. Most of these rely on either a refrigerant compressor cycle, free cooling, or evaporative cooling systems.

Refrigerant technologies work by circulating a refrigerant fluid – with low boiling and freezing points – within a closed system. The fluid evaporates and absorbs heat, is compressed into a condenser to release its heat elsewhere, then reverts back to its liquid phase for the loop to start again. It works like a fridge-freezer, forcing the transfer of heat to effectively cool a building below outside temperatures.

Free cooling relies on the outside temperatures being cooler than inside to expel heat away from a building. This can be improved by using evaporated cooling systems, which harness the cooling effect of water evaporation to cool the flow of air. These systems require less energy than refrigeration, but are unable to cool a building effectively if external temperatures are too high or too humid.

These are effective cooling solutions and many technologies have already been verified and listed on the ETL. Links to them are provided in this article, so read on to find out more. 

A strain on the grid, a problem for the environment

The mounting demand for electricity during hot summers places considerable pressure on the UK’s energy infrastructure. Hot weather pushes up demand for power as businesses, public sector buildings and households turn to air conditioning units. Power grids must accommodate the increased load, requiring additional generation capacity to meet the rising demand. This increase in generation could mean falling back on fossil fuel sources and ultimately lead to more emissions in the long run.

The strain on the network is increased due to many buildings in a single location (like a retail or office park) needing the power to cool their facilities. According to Government research paper ‘Cooling in the UK’, the UK consumed 6187 GWh of energy for non-domestic cooling in 2019. Private offices accounted for 44% of consumption. Other notable sources were public offices (~7%), retail (~19%) and health (9%). You can find the Government research paper here.

Refrigerants have other environmental impacts besides added energy generation. The first refrigerants were chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), but they were phased out by the 1987 Montreal Protocol due to their effect on depleting the Ozone Layer. For an overview of the Protocol’s history, see the United Nations Environment Programme.

These early refrigerants were replaced with hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). According to Climate and Clean Air Coalition, “though HFCs currently represent around 1% of total greenhouse gases, their impact on global warming can be hundreds to thousands of times greater than that of carbon dioxide per unit of mass.” You can visit their website here to learn more.

If refrigerant systems are not appropriately monitored and maintained to stop leakages of HFCs, or not treated appropriately in waste processes, HFCs release into the atmosphere can greatly contribute to climate change. So, progress is being made to shift refrigerants towards substances that can greatly limit environmental damage, like CO2, ammonia, glycol, or water.

The ETL offers efficient cooling systems to combat this

The good news is, there are energy-efficient answers to these problems available right now.

Through better building design, overhangs on office windows can maximise the sunshine you get in the winter, but reduce it in the summer. Automated detectors can be installed to find refrigeration system leaks, greatly reducing the environmental impact a leaking system would otherwise cause. And more efficient cooling systems (and the technology to control and monitor them) are on the market now, with some already verified for energy-efficiency by the ETL.

Ensure cooling solutions for businesses don’t cost the earth. Browse efficient cooling technology on the ETL today. You can also find many refrigeration and refrigeration control options by visiting this page on the ETL website.