Undoubtedly, industrial refrigeration and air conditioning are segments of the economy that are undergoing a process of technological and operational transformation. Currently, there are and are under development refrigeration options with which it is feasible to obtain more efficient and environmentally friendly processes. However, in the refrigeration and air conditioning sector in Latin America, these technologies are just taking their first steps. Little by little, the regional industry is adapting to them, despite the lack of regulatory frameworks that regulate the use of refrigerant gases.

The brief overview that we offer on this industry in Latin America identifies the challenges and some opportunities and examples of growth.

Challenges of refrigeration and air conditioning in Latin America

Recently, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) pointed out various challenges facing the region in terms of air conditioning and refrigeration. Such challenges are linked to the specific needs of the territory in this area, energy efficiency and the environmental impact of the systems used.

In this regard, ECLAC indicates that the most common air conditioning equipment for air conditioning environments in Latam is high in intensity and energy consumption. To such an extent that they represent 50% of the total consumption reflected in electricity bills in the humid and warm areas of the Caribbean. Likewise, investigations by the aforementioned Commission on energy poverty recognize that the region already has labels on energy efficiency in air conditioners and refrigerators. However, the high cost of these technologies generates a scenario of social inequality. This manifests itself in a gap in which only higher-income families have access to the benefits of such systems.

From the same perspective of energy poverty in the region, access to different systems represents a great challenge for the refrigeration and air conditioning sector in Latin America. According to research, in 2021, 48.8 million inhabitants of the region lived at high risk of not having access to sustainable refrigeration. This element is critical for the supply and transport of food, vaccines, medicines and basic food, maintaining the required cold chain. For this reason, in the most developed countries of Latam, about 40% of food is lost after harvest. And even during processing and the supply chain.

The “heat island” effect

As if that were not enough, a large part of the people at risk due to lack of refrigeration live in urban areas. Generally, homes without thermal insulation are affected by the “urban heat island effect”. Consequently, it is urgent to manage thermal comfort and reduce exposure to heat in urban areas. In this regard, we must consider that Latin America has one of the fastest urbanization rates on the planet.

For all of the above, these needs represent an interesting challenge for the industry that concerns us in Latin America. ECLAC itself argues that the recovery of this and other sectors after Covid-19 does not necessarily conflict with sustainable development.

Current panorama of the refrigeration and air conditioning market in Latin America

Certainly, the availability of updated information on the situation of the refrigeration and air conditioning sector in Latin America is very limited. However, it is clear that the economic situation affects this market in most countries and particularly in Mexico. To this, we must add the political and social variables that influence the amount of investment in the aforementioned segment in several countries.

Among the social circumstances, it is worth noting the change in trends in food consumption habits that a large part of the region is experiencing. Of course, this has an impact on the industrial refrigeration market, because although segments of society that prefer fresh and organic foods persist, the demand for frozen prepared foods is on the rise, driven by other sectors of the population.

Likewise, circumstances external to the specific situations of the countries influence the local industrial refrigeration industry. For example, there are companies whose production is destined largely or exclusively for export. Somehow, these organizations do not necessarily depend on the particular situations of the country in which they produce their products. This is the case in the beverage sector in Mexico, which is registering continuous growth. This is due to the fact that a large part of the production is destined for international markets and not only the local ones.

In the same regional refrigeration sector, Mexican companies are expanding their area of ​​influence. For this, they execute projects and services in countries of Central America, South America, the Caribbean and other regions of the world. For their part, organizations from Central and South America do the same to expand their businesses. And we are also seeing the presence of European companies in the sector, such as Intersam, in Latin America carrying out large-scale projects.

Other trends influencing the refrigeration segment

In parallel, other global trends are guiding the development of the refrigeration and air conditioning sector in Latin America. Specifically, the interest in reducing food waste -referred to by ECLAC- is manifesting itself in significant investments in the cold chain. The same occurs with the aim of reducing the use of synthetic refrigerants. We are talking about a trend that could mean the expansion of industrial refrigeration towards the segment called “heavy commercial refrigeration”. The purpose of the latter is to develop systems that incorporate natural refrigerants such as CO2 and ammonia.

The use of CO2 as a refrigerant is already verifiable in at least 15% of the new plants built in Europe, while in the United States it is increasing rapidly. By contrast, this transition is slower in Latin America. This is due to the lack of a legal framework that regulates the use of toxic refrigerants in refrigeration systems and installations. Apart from that, since it is a recent trend, there are still not enough engineering companies that incorporate these technologies into their developments. Even though there is a lack of greater impetus for solutions with CO2, the organizations in the sector that implement them have the infrastructure and qualified personnel to develop them.

Right now, the food retail segment is demanding refrigeration systems with natural refrigerants, given its focus on energy efficiency. In this perspective, cascade systems that use CO2 are some of the best options compared to synthetic refrigerants.

Intersam is present in the refrigeration and air conditioning market in Latin America

As we mentioned above, Intersam has a presence in the refrigeration and air conditioning market in Latin America. In particular, it has managed large-scale projects, such as the installation of systems at the Chuquicamata Mine. This open-pit mine, one of the largest in the world, is in Calama, Antofagasta, 1,650 kilometres north of Santiago de Chile. In 2019, the operating company CODELCO inaugurated the underground section of the complex to exploit a large ore reserve located just over a kilometre deep, under the current deposit. In it, Intersam’s air conditioning systems have been key to the successful operation of the mine.

But, in addition, the experience in the southern country includes other mining projects and the installation of a water vapour condensation system in Santiago de Chile. This shows that, from our base in Madrid, we can attend to projects and supply our refrigeration and air conditioning solutions in Latin America, as well as anywhere in the world. What are you waiting to contact us?