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The topless towers of the HVAC kind

Which really has a better market – a water-cooled system or an air-cooled one? How much do regulations affect the industry, vis-à-vis the local manufacturers and end-users? Has the economic downturn influenced preferences of consultants in the cooling tower sector? Mohammed Abdul Hai investigates…

| | Jul 4, 2016 | 10:07 am
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Raphael Khlat, Managing Director of Faisal Jassim Trading Company

Raphael Khlat, Managing Director of Faisal Jassim Trading Company

“Water-cooled systems will not be able to reach everyone, so there is plenty of work for air-cooled systems,” says Raphael Khlat, Managing Director of Faisal Jassim Trading Company, setting the tone for a discussion on the two systems. Abdul Aziz, Sales Engineer at Dar Al Riyadh, adds, “Market for water-cooled system, has always been good, considering the pace of the market,” lending it another perspective.

Air v/s water
According to market insiders, water-cooled systems have enjoyed a swift growth in the HVAC industry, but that hasn’t slowed down the market for air-cooled systems. Energy efficiency, cost management and a conducive market are what drive both the commercial and industrial sectors of these systems in the mainstream projects.

They estimate that air-cooled systems consume 1.4 kW/T compared to water-cooled systems, which offer better efficiency with 0.9 kW/T of energy consumption.

Abdul Aziz, Sales Engineer at Dar Al Riyadh

Abdul Aziz, Sales Engineer at Dar Al Riyadh

Drawing attention to the cooling tower market in general, Aziz, highlights: “Cooling towers have a comparatively higher margin in the market. However, a huge turnover can be expected for both the systems in the coming months. The market is sleeping right now, but it is a controllable issue.” Citing both economic and political reasons for the slow market, he adds: “There are still many opportunities for air-cooled systems to do well. We must not forget that different manufacturers are working diligently to improve the energy efficiency of air-cooled systems. And their comparatively lower prices, and low maintenance will always keep them in the race.” Agreeing with Aziz, Khlat thinks this is a healthy sign for the industry.

Cooling tower manufacturers based here need to be prepared to outdo their competitors

Jeevan Joy, Managing Director at SPIG, says, “The market is favourable for District Cooling Plants (DCPs) now, with new projects in and across the GCC region, and the demand in the region for water-cooled DCP systems is more than ever.” He reveals: “Several new tenders are flowing in towards the DCP market, and it seems like the market is re-emerging. These tenders are flowing for all major DCP companies, and we are very confident that these projects will turn into reality.” Sharing Joy’s opinion, and commenting on the market in general, Aziz adds: “Cooling systems are gaining momentum in this region, so the market always has the need for it. We are expecting a growth of 10-20% in the next couple of quarters, but that entirely depends on the market again.” Aziz attributes customer interest in the cooling tower sector for the green shoots being seen in the market, which he thinks “has paved way for our success in the GCC region”.

Jeevan Joy, Managing Director at SPIG

Jeevan Joy, Managing Director at SPIG

“There are a lot of commercial players in the market, exhibiting strong manufacturer and distributor relationship,” says Khlat, reinforcing Aziz’s view. “The local market is much spread, almost parallel with the economic terms of the region.” He believes that there is always potential for new cooling tower manufacturers, but adds a caveat: “However, pre-qualifying yourselves with the region is mandatory. Dubai will soon be saturated with cooling tower distributors, and it’s the right time investors and manufacturers should look to expand outside of Dubai.” Reflecting these thoughts, Joy says, “Industrial sector mostly works on the ‘knockdown’ condition, where the imported equipment are brought to the site and assembled.” Succinctly summing up the challenges cooling tower manufacturers face, he says, “Cooling tower manufacturers based here will have a lot of work to do, and need to be prepared to outdo their competitors, which is a tough job in itself.”

Fine-tuning the system
Manufacturers are constantly working to make cooling towers more appealing to customers, points out Aziz, and adds that improvement in design could prove to be the pivotal factor, with a focus on increased efficiency, while reducing the size of the equipment. He enumerates the key points manufacturers generally consider while producing the equipment: Energy efficiency, cost of maintenance and capacity of cooling area.

Dubai will soon be saturated with cooling tower distributors, and it’s the right time investors and manufacturers should look to expand outside of Dubai

Echoing this opinion, Joy adds, “On an industrial level, the catchword now is optimisation.” He believes that the key to efficiency lies with the manufacturer. However, he emphasises that monitoring is equally important to increase the efficiency of the plant, highlighting, “Since the DCP takes more load than it used to before, it makes the monitoring even more necessary.” He also underlines how important the design of the plant is, suggesting, “If the plant is capable of taking more load, this will be a benefit to the end-user, as it saves them money.”

In the opinion of industry insiders, there are two grey areas that could use a revamp, or at least a considerable amount of work: Use of TSE (Treated Sewage Effluent) water for better efficiency and awareness against Legionella bacteria for safety reasons. Experts underline that these areas generally tend to slip below the radar and, therefore, need more attention. “TSE water could prove to be the solution for energy efficiency that we desire,” says Joy. “If the plant is close to the sea, usage of seawater is also considerable.”

Selecting the right material for equipment manufacturing is very crucial, suggests, Khlat. “Solutions are available but they are expensive,” he adds. “In terms of efficiency, it is gradually increasing, which is a job well done on the manufacturer’s part.” He, however, voices his concern regarding the current manufacturing facilities in the region, when he says: “There must be more encouragement towards setting up local manufacturing sites of the equipment, instead of shipping them from across the globe. By doing this, the developers and the consumers would save a lot of the money.”

The possibility of cutting costs is available, but the government needs to step up and take charge, Khlat believes. “Government needs to promote and encourage the idea of producing or manufacturing the equipment locally,” he reiterates. “There is a pressing need for them to set up standards, regulations and testing labs.” Strongly endorsing this idea, he adds, “There is a lot of potential for the developers and the end-users to save money.”

Innovations are certain to bring about the much-needed transformation in the market. The introduction of a better product or cost management of any scale, could very well be the catalytic force to drive the consumers, suggests Khlat. Focusing on the role manufacturers play in the general scheme of things, Aziz emphasises: “Manufacturers work constantly to improve the efficiency of the cooling towers. Reducing the size of the equipment, making it more eco-friendly and, of course, meeting the consumer demand.”

Middle East’s date with dates
Gazing forward at the upcoming EXPO 2020 in Dubai and the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar, experts acknowledge that although the market is slow, there are new projects being announced. Aziz is one of them, who believes that the two mega-events will spur a boom in the market. “We have seen an increase in upcoming projects,” he says, which he thinks will help “cooling system manufacturers and their products to an even greater extent.”

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