Refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pumps play a vital part in the lives of everyone in the modern world

Businesses involved in this sector

Cooling and temperature control are a necessary part of many businesses and services in the industrial and commercial sector. For example businesses manufacturing equipment and components (UK and import), wholesalers and distributors of equipment,  contracting companies providing engineering services (consultancy, technical sales, design, installation, service, maintenance); users of refrigeration technologies (eg supermarkets, hospitals and medical applications, IT telecoms and data servers, building cooling, heat pumps), as well as researchers and teachers in colleges and universities involved in R&D.


Applications of technologies

All types of food and drink production, storage, distribution rely on refrigeration.  It is also essential for industrial & manufacturing retailing and service activities including food & drink related, mining, textiles, papers, chemical processing, pharmaceuticals and medical applications, air conditioning in vehicles and refrigerated transport, construction and refurbishment of industrial and commercial premises (air conditioning) and increasingly domestic (heat pumps which use refrigeration technology), telecommunications and information technology servicing (data centres, computer rooms and serves), professional consultancy in construction, architecture, engineering services, scientific research and development in Universities and businesses. 


As an employer

The RACHP industry is a large employer directly through service and maintenance, technicians, designers and consultants, contractors and installers.  It is estimated by DEFRA that around 40,000 individuals work as service technicians and around 5,000 businesses operate in the RACHP service sector alone.   In many cases, most are micro businesses or SMEs, although there are some companies employing 500+.  In addition many more people are employed indirectly in management, manufacturing, research and design processes and applications involving RACHP.


Economic contribution to the UK

The RACHP industry is usually divided into 5 broad sectors namely,

  • building air conditioning and heat pumps (i.e. for industrial buildings, shops, offices and houses)
  • commercial refrigeration (i.e. for retail, particularly food, and catering)
  • industrial refrigeration and climate control (i.e. for the manufacturing and processing industries e.g. chemicals, biological properties and foods and for cold storage)
  • transport refrigeration (i.e. for containers, ships, rail, trucks and vans) 
  • domestic refrigeration (i.e. refrigerators and freezers for home use)

Estimates for the market value of each of these sectors made by London South Bank University, for both the UK and Europe, are shown below.  Market values per annum for the main sectors of the RAC industry

RAC sector


Air Conditioning

£0.7 billion


£0.5 – 0.7 billion


 Not known


£0.2 billion


£0.7-1.0 billion


This indicates a total market size and direct economic impact of the RACHP industry is of the order of £2.4 billion per annum (2013). The indirect market value of goods and services that are reliant on refrigeration is approaching £100 billion pa.

RACHP technologies are also used widely in mobile air conditioning applications in cars, trains, airplanes and buses.


Environmental impact – energy and carbon

Currently, 10% of greenhouse emissions and 16% of the UK's electricity consumption are estimated to be attributed to the use refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump equipment according to the Carbon Trust.  A good example of such an area is the food industry where refrigeration energy use is high - the food industry is responsible for 12% of the UK’s industrial energy consumption and uses over 4500 GWh/yr of electrical energy. Considerable potential exists to reduce energy use within the food industry by improving the overall efficiency of refrigeration processes and to develop systems that fully utilise resources. Another example is domestic heating - it is estimated that if 1% of boiler replacement converted to heat pumps which use refrigeration technology, displacing gas condensing boilers, this would be equivalent to 3.7 million tonnes of CO2 being saved in one year.

Reducing its environmental impact both in direct emissions (leakage of refrigerant) and indirect (energy use) is an important challenge for the sector and its essential users, which is being addressed with many energy saving innovations and environmental initiatives.


Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Industry Board member organisations

Newsletter sign up

If you would like to register for updates, please click the subscribe button.

Cannot load form

Sorry, this form requires you to accept Analytics and Functional cookies before it can load. Click here to allow these types of cookie.