Beyond Refrigeration – the IOR annual conference focuses the industry on steps to net-zero

This year’s IOR Annual Conference in April tackled one of the biggest issues facing users of refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pumps – the journey to net zero.  Clearly a popular topic, over 120 delegates from the UK and overseas attended the online event on 21 and 22 April.   The conference was part of the IOR’s ongoing work to address environmental challenges, as part of its Beyond Refrigeration initiatives that focus on seven key issues and include a template for action which was also launched at the conference.

In opening the event Conference Chair, Robert Lamb FInstR, said “We need to look at the actions we need to take and the changes we need to make to achieve net zero. We have to get on with working on these issues together – and that’s where we are starting today.”

The conference provided a platform for the industry to share successes in what has been achieved so far with a series of case studies that have realised emissions reductions – either on a cross-sector or application basis.  It also provided an opportunity to discuss more widely the complex and interrelated issues and topics around the journey to net-zero with a series of themed “coffee lounge” discussion areas hosted by experts.

A familiar and important issue identified was the need for the industry to raise its profile as an essential provider of services which has already achieved a lot in terms of reducing its environmental impact. The substantial accomplishments around direct emission reductions, the change to low GWP refrigerants and technologies to improve efficiency have gone largely unrecognised by the users of cooling technologies.  Keynote speaker James Curlin of UNEP (the UN Environment Programme) said “Your sector has done a fantastic job to address this, but it is not getting the message across.  It’s a hidden sector that does its work in the background.  People don’t understand the contribution it is making to society.”

Many of those present agreed that one of the most pressing issues is trying to influence the behaviour of non-technical buyers and users of heating and cooling.  A shift is needed in the way individuals and businesses think and act in relation to how they consume energy for both their heating and cooling needs.  Alongside this new attitudes to collaborative working, training and skills are needed to ensure that new technologies available or changing ways of working gain the maximum environmental benefit possible.

The event featured 18 presentations (all now recorded for future use) and technical papers. The papers will soon be made available more widely as part of the IOR’s Beyond Refrigeration work, in order to build a database of case studies and good practice resources following the seven Beyond Refrigeration key themes of:

  • System performance
  • Using best available technology
  • Balancing heating and cooling
  • Reducing the need for cooling
  • Using energy intelligently
  • Working together
  • People and skills

As part of the interactive discussion sessions delegates discussed how they might use the newly drafted IOR Beyond Refrigeration template that breaks down the steps to achieve net zero in each of these key themes.  There was a lot of interest in using this to provide a focus for discussions between technical specialists and buyers of heating and cooling as well as to help set ambitious targets for what needs to be achieved through their own environmental business strategies. The IOR working group leading this initiative is now inviting members and anyone else who wants to develop more resources and build activities around these ideas to join a series of Working Groups. The Working Group will be looking at what additional tools and technical guidance end users will require to make rapid progress. The first working group events will be held on 19 May via zoom.

The success of the conference, and the importance of this topic, has been such that the IOR is now planning to hold a further annual conference on the same theme in 2022 to help the industry  benchmark its progress and continue to build expertise as we move beyond refrigeration and towards net zero.

You can download the Beyond Refrigeration template and sign up for the new Working Groups at the IOR website