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Making Green Commercially Viable

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Text : Matthias Gelber

As regular readers know, I have been looking for sweet spots where the environmental benefit of shifting to a new technology and going green for a residential and commercial development go hand in hand.

Why am I looking for this? Simply because I believe in the long term this is the key to make ‘going green’ commercially viable. And at the same time get out of the trap I hear all the time where people tell me if it is the same price, I will go green, but if it is more expensive, then I won’t.

Not ‘going green’ actually costs Malaysians a lot of money,  – how about the cost of building RM5 billion water pipes, the health system costs of treating modern diseases linked to contamination of our foods – the true cost of not ‘going green’ is hidden in money that is not seen as expense of pollution.

One climate killer that is still widely used in Malaysia is the cooling gas R22. It is a synthetic gas that has a Global Warming Potential that is 1700 times higher than CO2, which means the negative impact on climate change of one bottle of R22 is equivalent to 1700 bottles of CO2. Did you ever know that something most developers put into commercial or residential buildings is such a nasty climate killer? Compare that to ‘natural gas’ based coolants. One product available in Malaysia called Cold 22 has only about three times the impact on climate change as normal CO2 and at the same time it gives energy efficiency benefits.

According to Chris Xavier, the local Cold 22 consultant representing Kumpulan Arena, the master distributor for Cold 22 in Malaysia, you only need 450 grams of Cold22 for 1 kg of the normal fluorocarbon refrigerant, such as R22. At the same time less horse power is required to compress the gas, which increases compressor live span.

I can still remember the first time I stayed at Times Square in Malaysia six years ago where the air-cond compressors kept breaking down. I would say this was partially due to building design.

So there are savings from switching over, with estimation in the region of 20%. I asked for an application example and the one I got hold of was a tricky but successful one even though the savings were slightly lower; in the region of 12%. Another client achieved more than 20% but wants to remain confidential about their change of cooling gas. Energy Advisory (M) Sdn Bhd (EASB) carried out the above exercise at the PLUS Highway Subang Toll Plaza by retrofitting the air conditioners with Hydro Carbon refrigerant, brand name COLD22, to replace its current R22 refrigerant.

The energy saving achieved were between 12% and 15%.  In certain air conditioners the energy saving increased after performing additional cleaning.  The old R22 is captured for safe disposal and destruction in an eco friendly way, which currently can only be done overseas.

Currently the working hours of the air conditioners are not constant. They depend on the function of the units. The hours vary from about eight to 24. In certain cases the air conditioners require chemical cleaning due to their deteriorated conditioners.

Observations on the project also showed that on certain months TNB did not carry meter reading to ascertain the energy consumed.  Instead the energy consumption was estimated and billed.  In most cases TNB has overcharged and adjusted the error in the coming months. This made the commercial arrangement based on the electricity savings more difficult to execute. But this could be handled by basing it on an average monthly savings percentage.

Malaysia has the mandate to totally phase out R22 by 2030. The sooner we get rid of it, the better. For normal multi split type air-conditioning units the change is just a simple exercise of taking out the nasty R22 and replacing it with the natural gas-based alternative. This replacement and save disposal carries a cost. But it can be absorbed by a performance contract.

For new condos where the developer provides air-con units there is no need to go with R22 or dispose the old R22. Why do we continue to put a burden on our grandchildren even though the alternative will save us money in the long term through efficiency. And it is safe operationally through the modern gas mix. In addition to that if your target is getting points for green building certification, you should score both on the energy efficiency and innovation section. The fact that Cold22 has as well zero impact on the ozone layer is another plus. PLUS Highway should be congratulated for being one of the pioneers in starting the switch. Hopefully more companies in Malaysia will switch.