Climate change, hydrogen energy production, and heat pumps were some of the reoccurring themes covered at the Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada’s (HRAI) conference and annual general meeting. The annual event ran from Sept. 22 to 24 at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Montréal, Qué. There was a total of around 230 attendees at this year’s conference.
A unique perspective, the keynote presentation was given by Ken Dryden, a man who has worn many hats over the years including former NHL goaltender, a Liberal MP in the Toronto area, and a lawyer. “Your industry has mattered a lot in my life,” he shared to the crowd. “This industry helps heat and cool hockey rinks, which benefit all players as they can practice all year round.”
Dryden highlighted the importance of this industry when it comes to climate change, “This industry contributes to the climate change issue, but that also means that it will be part of the climate change solution.” He warns that if any elements of the industry are out of sync, there is a big price to pay.
He recognized that climate change has turned from a scientific perspective to a political one. “Trust breeds trust. Now there are fewer excuses not to act. The impossible starts to become the possible, which in turn, becomes the norm.”
During the “extra time” portion of the keynote presentation, Dryden sat down with Martin Luymes, vice president of government and stakeholders relations at HRAI, and answered questions from the audience. When asked about how contractors could encourage customers to spend the extra money to install the best equipment in the long run, Dryden stated that the first step is to make sure that you believe what you’re selling. The next is to have the evidence to back up the advice given.
To kick off the slew of panel sessions, Matthew Bradford, business writer, editor, and HRAI webinar host, moderated the session, while Mark Dancer, distribution and supply chain futurist, author, fellow, and industry advisor, Jeffrey Siegel, professor of civil engineering at the University of Toronto, William Harvey, consultant at Dunsky Energy and Climate Advisors, and Alain Mongrain, contractor business development for Emerson Canada, gave their views on the future as part of the “Power Forward – See the Future Now” panel.
The panel touched on topics such as climate change, education, decarbonization, heat pumps, and global warming. The first question the panel tackled was concerning the adoption of technology — “the technology is there but there is a gap that needs to be jumped for adoption to speed up. What needs to happen?”
According to Harvey, “I think that one thing that is going to change is regulations. We have seen in different jurisdictions there are bans on gas.” Incentives will also play an important role.
Mongrain argued that education was the important driving force toward ramped-up adoption. He also recognized the importance of the regulation sector, “Education is very important. To drive innovation, we need education. We have to be consistent. Regulations aren’t consistent within the border and outside it too.” He suggested looking to Europe for some solutions. In terms of regulations in Canada, the BC Step Code was given credit.
The Great Debate
The next panel discussion focused on the HVAC/R industry from a variety of industry perspectives. Sandy MacLeod, CEO of HRAI, moderated the panel with Chuck Farmer, vice-president of planning, conservation and resource adequacy at Independent Electricity System Operator, Jim Bolger, owner and president of Waterloo Energy Products, Corey Diamond, executive director of Efficiency Canada, and Jason Wolfe, director of energy solutions at FortisBC, as the experts.
When asked whether hydrogen will be the future, Farmer explained that “you can’t phase out natural gas until you have something that can act like it.” The assumption is it’ll be hydrogen, but the reality of the system is that there will need to be more infrastructure built to prepare for any type of transition.
“One of the big challenges with the energy transition is time,” explains Farmer. He suggests learning from Europe on best practices for the adoption of hydrogen as more effort has been put into the sector there. “You can do about 20 per cent in the pipelines,” reports Farmer. “Right now, regulation only allows about five per cent.”
When asked what advice he’d give to the HVAC sector in preparation for the future, Diamond shared that contractors need to be ready, “Transformative policies are coming, and your businesses need to be ready as it’ll be how we experience it.”
Equity, diversity, and inclusion
The tone of conversation took a bit of a shift during the “Team-Up Workforce Development” panel. Chelsea Goberdhan, government relations specialist at HRAI, moderated the panel, with Klayton Goncalves, senior economist and head of business intelligence at BuildForce Canada, Mark Wafer, former president and CEO of Abilities Canada, Terri Givens, professor at McGill University, and Joanna Woo, management trainee at Emco, as the experts.
The panel largely focused on inclusive business practices. “You have to ask people to apply,” shared Wafer. “People aren’t going to assume that a workplace is going to be inclusive.” He shared his experience as a Tim Horton’s owner and how he was able to increase the number of employees with a visual or non-visual disabilities and increase his employee retention.
Employee retention is extremely important for the industry as the labour shortage is only expected to get worse with an ageing industry. With heat pump adoption on the rise, this will mean that there should be plenty of work for the future. But, in turn, does spell trouble as more labour would also be needed, explains Goncalves.
At this year’s conference, international speakers were invited to sit on a panel titled “World Champions of Change,” where they discussed the heating and cooling sectors from their home countries. Pushpinder Rana, director of engineering and services at Mitsubishi Electric Sales Canada Inc., moderated the panel, while Stephen Chartrand, regulatory affairs for HRAI Canada, Stephen R. Yurek, president and CEO for AHRI, Christine Youghui Kim, department head for the Korean Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Industry Association, and Greg Picker, executive director of refrigerants in Australia, sat as the international experts.
The conference wrapped up with the contractors, wholesalers, and manufacturers divisions, each holding a breakaway session and an annual general meeting. At the wholesaler’s division, Lauralei Heggie, director of business development at HRAI Canada, Dante Mancuso, president at Toronto Health and Safety Consultants, and Andrew Klein, fire protection engineer and chemical engineer at A.S. Klein Engineering, each gave a presentation. At the manufacturer’s division, Dermot McMorrow, vice president and general manager of the HVAC division at Mitsubishi Electric, and Luymes each gave a presentation. At the contractor’s division, France Daviault, CEO at the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, Goncalves, and Tara Smith, owner and operator of Mr. Furnace Heating, gave presentations. Smith was announced as the new chair of HRAI.
The 2024 HRAI annual general meeting and conference will take place at the Fairmont in Vancouver, B.C. and will run from Sept. 22 to 24.