Stephen Gill is known around the world as a champion of the HVAC&R industry.
A longtime refrigeration consultant and former president of the Institute of Refrigeration in the UK, Gill has most recently channelled his efforts into establishing World Refrigeration Day – a global celebration of HVAC&R on June 26, Lord Kelvin’s birthday.
What brought you to the HVAC&R industry?
It was totally by chance.
I had completed an engineering apprenticeship at an old-fashioned heavy engineering company that unfortunately was soon to be closing down. I looked around for an opportunity to retrain in something else and was advised that the future lay in computer programming, not heavy engineering.
I went along for an interview to enrol on a government-assisted training course, but when I arrived I was told it was already full. I must have looked rather despondent, because the receptionist helpfully added that if I came back in the afternoon they were interviewing for a training course in refrigeration system design and were finding it difficult to fill.
As luck would have it, they were short of the minimum number required to run the course by one, so I was welcomed with open arms and returned home that evening having been accepted onto the course. I will never forget that interview, because the interviewer told me that going into computer programming would have been a mistake anyway, and that refrigeration was a much more important industry. How right he was!
How do you see the HVAC&R industry developing over the next 100 years?
The need for heating, cooling, and human comfort is still going to be required in 100 years (hopefully!), so it is fairly certain that we will still have an industry. However, the technologies that we are using and the services that we provide will almost certainly change.
We are in essence thermal energy engineers – we move thermal energy from one place to another. As greater emphasis is placed on energy conservation and energy reduction, our skills and knowledge to integrate heating and cooling systems, and also for thermal energy storage, will develop systems and methods of delivery that are possibly quite different from today.
What's your favourite HVAC&R-related memory?
Having worked in this industry for so long and in so many roles, I have many happy memories. However, if I have to choose, I would narrow it down to two.
One was when, as a young engineer, I visited a food factory and was walking around to the plant room at the rear of the building when I came across a man sitting in the sunshine, very humbly on an empty milk crake for a chair, eating his homemade packed lunch.
As I approached, he jumped up and held his hand out and introduced himself. I replied that I already knew who he was because he was the President of the UK Institute of Refrigeration, and also one of the owners and founders of Star Refrigeration. He was a legend; I was overawed to meet him in person. To put me at my ease, he offered me one of his sandwiches.
This is such a fond memory because it reminds me that this industry is full of amazing people, but they are down to earth and approachable. What a wonderful industry this is.
My second favourite memory has to be the first World Refrigeration Day.
I had been campaigning for it for many years, all in my spare time and without any resources. We only managed to get a website together three days before! As the day approached, I got increasingly stressed and worried that it would be a flop and that it would pass by without even a mention. I was busy trying to drum up support for it right up until the day dawned in New Zealand and Australia.
By that time, I was exhausted, but I watched the first events and posts start to appear online and then over the course of the next 30 hours or so, followed the online activities as World Refrigeration Day rippled across the globe. I now know that events took place in at least 153 countries on that day.
It was an amazing experience and a memory I cherish for ever.
What’s something everyone should know about you, your work, or the HVAC&R industry?
We are a global industry filled with remarkable people doing amazing things and facing similar challenges all over the world. It requires a range of skills and knowledge much broader than we give ourselves credit for.
The HVAC&R industry, its technology, and its skilled professionals are essential to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. We are making a difference by touching people’s everyday lives today and every day in many extraordinary ways.
We have a great story to tell, but we need to put our creative minds to finding a better way to tell it.