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VARFAIR 2013: A call for unity

The 1st Annual Middle East VRF Conference called for close cooperation among industry players and openness in sharing operational data in order to encourage industry growth and technological development.

| | Apr 13, 2013 | 4:10 pm
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This is part I of our extensive coverage of the event

The 1st Annual Middle East VRF Conference called for close cooperation among industry players and openness in sharing operational data in order to encourage industry growth and technological development.

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The 1st Annual Middle East Variable Refrigerant Flow Conference, held on February 24 and 25 at Radisson Blu, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE, served as an opportunity for government authorities, industry players, master developers and subject experts to come together under one roof to discuss and deliberate on key issues concerning the technology of variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems.

VRF cooling systems have long been touted as a technology that could minimise efficiency losses, offer low lifecycle costs compared to traditional HVAC systems, and provide a sustainable solution to increasing concerns over energy efficiency and the continuously growing demand for electricity. In these times of economic uncertainty, when cost reduction and optimisation of energy usage are the top priority of the industry and its stakeholders, VRF systems could definitely be the right kind of fit.

Discussions and deliberations at the Conference, however, revealed several important concerns over VRF systems. One of the most pressing challenges to the growth of the technology, pointed out during the event, was the general lack of familiarity and knowledge about the system on the part of engineers and contractors and of the installation and maintenance personnel. The perceived insufficient awareness about the technology was regarded as one of the deterrents to the development of VRF systems in the region. It was felt that owing to this, a large part of the market is reluctant to embrace the technology and chooses to stick with the more traditional familiar cooling systems.

Another hurdle to the growth of the VRF industry, highlighted during the Conference, was the absence of cooperation and unified effort on the part of manufacturers and suppliers. The observed absence of collaboration among industry players was pointed out as an impediment to the creation of standard regulations and training programmes for installation and maintenance personnel. It was also regarded as one of the reasons for the absence of a standard documentation on the technology and of a collaborative effort towards information dissemination on VRF systems.

The presentations at the Conference were insightful and interesting. As a part of our extensive and comprehensive coverage of the event, we bring you excerpts from the addresses/presentations of Mohammad Ahmad Al Mulla, Director of the Metrology Department, Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology; Edwin Young, Programme Manager of Estidama, Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council; Dr Esam Elsarrag, Director of the Gulf Organisation for Research and Development and George Kenich, Head, Infrastructure and MEP, ALDAR Properties.

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What they said …

april2013-varfair03Mohammad Ahmad Al Mulla

Director of the Metrology Department, Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology (ESMA)

“The UAE, through ESMA, is very much keen, not only in conserving energy but also in protecting the environment. We believe that, while the UAE is blessed by God with abundant oil, it is our duty to use oil wisely, as it is considered a non-renewable resource. At the same time, we are also committed to protecting our planet Earth.

“There are currently some initiatives that ESMA is implementing or is planning to implement. One of these is the energy efficiency standardisation and labelling programme for air conditioners, lighting products, washing machines, refrigerators and storage water heaters.

“These [initiatives] are geared towards our commitment to energy conservation and our role in solving the issues relating to climate change. While we are implementing these programmes and initiatives, it is also high time, and equally important, for us to really look into the appropriate refrigerant that can be used in air conditioners, not only in the UAE but also in the region.

“We all know that R22, or HCFC – the current refrigerant widely used in air conditioners and other cooling appliances, is responsible for destroying the ozone layer, which is the Earth’s main protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation. With the ozone layer depleted, and with the harsh climate in the UAE, people are exposed to risks of skin cancer, cataract and other ailments associated with UV rays.

“The UAE is one of the first countries committed to the protection of the ozone layer by signing the Montreal Protocol. This commitment was further reinforced by Federal Law No 13 of 1999, regulating the importation of ozone depleting substances. With the above-mentioned UAE’s stand on the depletion of the ozone layer brought about by harmful chemicals, let me reiterate that we, at ESMA, consider this event as a very important one, as we are regulating air conditioners, refrigerators and other cooling appliances.

“These appliances use R22 refrigerant, considered an ozone-depleting substance, and once technology allows us to have an environmentally friendly refrigerant that assures safety and efficiency of these appliances, then, easily, we can amend our existing regulations to use the appropriate refrigerants.

“What lies ahead at ESMA and what is our strategic goal? We will soon create a committee to study and develop a regulation to gradually decrease the importation of R22, and appliances using R22 will gradually be restricted, starting from the year 2015. In the near future, R22 refrigerant will only be used in servicing existing equipment and appliances.

“The above-mentioned target will be elevated to other GCC member-countries, through the Gulf Standardisation Organisation, so that the ban on appliances using ozone-depleting refrigerants will also be implemented.

“The variable refrigerant flow systems, I understand, represent an attempt to meet current realities and the region’s sustainability goals. It will be interesting to listen to the different stakeholders on their [take] about this technology, the challenges and the solutions on offer….

“I sign off with the hope that this conference will be one more firm step towards achieving the UAE and the region’s sustainability goals.”

april2013-varfair04Edwin Young

Programme Manager, Estidama. Abu Dhabi Urban Council Planning

“We have two rating systems that would really come aboard VRF/VRV. We have two standards in our building rating system where it will be applicable. One of them is Minimum Energy Performance, RE-R1. VRV/VRF can definitely support as a document. Unfortunately, we do not see a lot of systems of this type in buildings; people are still willing to stick with their original technology of chilled water. But in certain types of usage and in certain typologies in size, this definitely has the technology that will improve energy performance and will be more commercially viable. That is the important thing – we are getting an energy improvement using VRF/VRV over chilled water, but in the same respect, it should cost less, which is important for everybody in this fierce commercial climate.

“Now, the other thing is RE-R3 (Ozone Impacts of Refrigerants). Estidama has made the step to nullify the use of R22 within the Emirate. As our colleagues from ESMA have said, it is a long-term goal for the United Arab Emirates to make that step. Abu Dhabi took that step early.

“One of the problems we have had is that we cannot control borders, as only ESMA can control borders … so R22 still appears, unfortunately, in new buildings, even though we try and make sure that it doesn’t….

“Now, the important thing when you come to variable refrigerant volume is that R22 is really not an option. Going forward, we see this as a natural progression, where the use of R410A or R407C will effectively help reduce any risk of somebody using R22.

“The second and more important side of this is … we have the same codes in villas, but we have prescriptives. So, we set a Coefficient of Performance (CoP) for minimum standards for villas of 3.4. Again, that has helped the VRF/VRV marketplace. Then, if you want to go for an optional credit under RE-1 (Improved Energy Performance), you have to have a CoP of 3.8…. We have this requirement for zero ODP, and it is an important factor for any selection going forward. So, VRV in villas is one of the big things for us….

“There is a very large government housing programme going on within the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The government, as a whole, has a mandate to deliver almost 3,000 villas per annum over the foreseeable future. “When we started looking at villas two years ago, they were split-based…. Now, we have 9,000 villas currently with a design rating of two pearls, and they are all government-funded. The majority of that marketplace is VRF or VRV, which is a complete market change. So, obviously, it’s working…. We have 6,000 [villas] currently in sight and, again, most of these are currently proposed with VRV/VRF systems. What we have proven is that by joint effort, we can work together to make it better….

“We believe, though we do not have the final statistics, that the VRF marketplace in Abu Dhabi was relatively low in 2010. Going forward … the villas, predominantly, will increase the marketplace share and there is enough there for everybody. So, we have changed that marketplace for a better and safer technology. It is something that we want to move forward with the industry.

“We think we are helping your marketplace. What do we want in return?

better training

“That is something that Estidama has been very proud of, as we have trained over 6,000 [people] in the last two years…. It is only through educating your public that you will make your life and their lives easier, and training is something we are very keen on to try and take forward with you.

Consistency in commissioning

“Commissioning here is pretty poor. Obviously, you can have the best system in the world, but if it is commissioned badly and maintained badly, it will never perform to its optimum level. Refrigeration systems here are working during summer, or working close to the end of physics. They need to be commissioned properly. They need to be maintained. It is something that the market can drive forward….

Better quality installations

“It is something that we are keen to move forward [with]. Even though there is no ODP requirement in R410A and R407C, they still have high GWP. So, we have global warming potential by leakage. It is common practice in all of the Emirates to change refrigeration gas every three to four months…. That is not reclamation; that is discharge into the environment. We need to try and stop that in VRV/VRF. Obviously, the system capacity is a lot bigger, and if there is a gas leakage, it will have a bigger effect. We need to make sure that pipe work quality and testing and lower leakage rates are approved forward. Only you can drive that as a supplier. That is something that you have to do to make for better overall environmental standards.

Simple ownership instructions in Arabic

“It is important that users, when they get the new villa, understand how to use the product. These are complex pieces of equipment, but they have to be used effectively.

Minimum standards of workmanship

“We would like you, if possible, to set up a body of standardisation, where you all work together…. Come together once a quarter, do what you have to do to try and improve your marketplace. While you are competing against each other, you have a very good marketplace here, and hopefully, Estidama expands into the other emirates…. Use Estidama to try and influence yourselves and get better installations.”

april2013-varfair05Dr Esam Elsarrag

Director, Gulf Organisation for Research and Development (GORD – GSAS)

“We have five criteria for energy: The first is energy demand…. You have to pass the passive design standards, or else you will not be certified … and you have to pass it according to the tools and the benchmarks set up by GSAS.

“For step two, we need to deploy efficient systems. For each criterion, we have tools and we do not accept modelling, as we have our modelling tool. So, we have here delivery and, of course, your VRF systems come here to show your competence, and we have some standards for that.

“Step three: From where do you get your electricity? Is it from the grid, or from Kaharama, or from Electricity and Water Authority. We also calculate that.

“Then, we calculate the CO2 emissions and the NOx and SOx.

“So we have five criteria and failing in one of these criteria would mean you will not get the certificate.

“In addition, GSAS is the only system in the world that can penalise you. If you leave any of the criteria, you will get penalised and get a minus. So a minus in energy, a minus in water, and a minus score overall would mean you will not get the certificate….

“We decided to go with the European standards. So we followed the EN ISO 13790 framework. This is why we are having problems with the HVAC suppliers. When we ask them about the seasonal energy efficiency ratio, they come back with the ASHRAE value. You have to follow the EN ISO standards…. The whole framework has been modelled in a simplified tool, so you do not have to worry about modelling anymore.

“Our benchmark is almost 30% less than ASHRAE. So, our zero is 30% less than ASHRAE 90.1. This is so, because Qatar is criticised by the World Bank as having the highest per capita in the world for carbon emissions. We are responding to this message. So, to get just one-third of the points for energy, you have to be 45% less than ASHRAE. To get the full mark, you have to be about 60% less than ASHRAE….

“Now, GORD is commissioned to put the unified code for the mechanical for the GCC countries. We are now working hard with the GCC countries to write the mechanical codes, and your input is very important….

“We know that ASHRAE standards are not suitable for our region…. We need to work hard to develop our passive design standards. Actually, Kuwait went further on that. They started their research and worked closely with ASHRAE, and developed the ASHARE 90.1-Kuwait. But, we told them this would not work…. We have to have passive design standards for the region.

“We are also working on the refrigerants, although the only country applying regulations on refrigerants is UAE – Abu Dhabi, in particular. In Qatar, as a country, you will not find any regulation for refrigerants, and this is silly. But, people are working hard to get it done. We appreciate the Abu Dhabi work in this regard.

“We are also talking about systems: Definitions of CoP, the seasonal energy efficiency ratio we should go through, and which standards, and if they are suitable for our region or not… Within six or nine months, you will find a big update on this.”

april2013-varfair06George Kenich

Head, Infrastructure and MEP, ALDAR Properties PJSC

“One of the fundamental advantages of this system is in saving energy. It is very obvious that with this kind of system, we might have around 30% [in energy savings]. In the United States, we had one study for this in Harvard, and we found out that some developers and some users reported around 40% to 50%, some around 25%. This is related to the nature of the system, specifically to the compressor and the inverter working inside in order to make the system work much more efficiently….

“Another critical thing about the system is that it is modular. That means you can design as much as you like; you can put any of these indoor units wherever you want; you may have whatever function you like, be it heating or cooling; and you can control the units individually. This system also has the ability to adapt the flow as per the load requirement….

“It has also been measured that the system has a very quiet operation. Some of the systems are reaching around 25dB for the indoor unit and 50dB for the outdoor unit….

“It also has a small footprint, so it can be used to save space in a development or in the building itself.

“It can also be monitored in a centralised way. It can be flexibly controlled by building management systems….

“Now, let’s try to find out what the concerns about the system are:

The initial cost … some years back was around 40% [higher than the traditional systems]. Now, it has dropped down to 30%, and hopefully, as the market grows, maybe, we can see it dropping down [further]….

“Facilities managers and maintenance technicians are not 100% familiar with this technology, though. We do have a problem in finding a proper maintenance team to fix it later….

“In terms of installation cost, we are facing the same problem of lack of awareness of the market. To be fair … it is quite new in this area, and even in the United States….

“The fourth concern we have is in terms of lifecycle cost. Life cycle cost is a fundamental issue whenever you are dealing with sustainability issues. It is the way which you define the cost: From the installation until the end of the lifecycle of this item. In this specific case, we do have a lot of unknown areas, which makes it difficult to clearly evaluate the lifecycle of this [system] in order to have a proper judgement if we are going to use it or not….

“The most important concern for me is about the refrigerant. This system has an extremely big length of refrigerant pipes and it is directly related to the refrigerant, either for cooling or heating. Imagine having a small building and having one kilometre, approximately, of refrigerant pipes inside, under pressure…. For us, this potential leak is critical….

“We are mostly using the “environmentally friendly” R410A refrigerant…. This specific refrigerant has an ozone-depletion potential of zero, but it has a specific global warming potential (GWP) of 1,900, according to some books, or 1,875, as per Estidama. Just to give you an idea, carbon dioxide has [a GWP of] 1, while this one has 1,900 – 1,900 times more than carbon dioxide…. Imagine, if I have a leak of 10 kilos of this refrigerant, what is the impact?

“This refrigerant works at higher pressure than other refrigerants. Due to its nature, this refrigerant requires specialised personnel. That is the reason why I mentioned that we are concerned about maintenance and installation. For sure, this one will be in many other HVAC systems, but the problem will still be there, as long as you have long refrigerant pipes….

“In conclusion, I would like to tell you that this is a fantastic technology, but all of our concerns are due to unknown situations…. More than any of the above-mentioned setbacks, the most crucial is the absence of familiarity and clear documentation within the engineering community. I believe that, as this will improve, definitely all these things can be solved.

“We cannot predict the future of this specific technology, but as Abraham Lincoln said: ‘The best way to predict the future is to create it’.”


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