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VRF technology comes of age

The 5th edition of the Annual Middle East Variable Refrigerant Flow Conference held on March 27 in Dubai, UAE, showcased the strides the system has made and the foothold it has now gained throughout the region, with stakeholders looking to capitalise on the momentum to unleash the system’s potential in various applications in a wide array of projects. We bring you a detailed report…

| | May 18, 2017 | 4:03 pm
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In a departure from the past, consultants speaking at the 5th Annual Middle East Variable Refrigerant Flow Conference expressed their approval of the technology and spoke of how it has turned a corner in terms of its versatility and the value it offers. Held on March 27 at Roda Al Murooj Downtown, Dubai, and produced by CPI Industry, publishers of Climate Control Middle East, the event was an acknowledgement that VRF systems continue to break stereotypes.

Kandasamy Anbalagan, Managing Partner at Proleed Engineering Consultants, commended the system’s progress in the market, gleaning insights from his many years as an industry expert, and in the context of challenges that had been posed earlier. “In the past, we used the VRF system as an addition to an existing tool,” he said. “Being part of this conference for the past four years, the approach towards VRF is that it is no longer seen as just an alternative option. We have been using it in residential projects. In the past, there was some major resistance. Now, it’s been accepted, and there are more options for VRF systems, and that’s how we are looking at it.”

Other consultants spoke of specific features of VRF systems that they found particularly beneficial to their projects. Juma Yousef Juma, CEO of GETCO, described how the system’s precise controls translated into precise comfort. He spoke of how VRF systems had become synonymous with “cooling the right way and distributing the right way”. He also highlighted the space-saving feature of the technology, which offered benefits to the end-user.

Raef Hammoudeh, Director (MEP Engineering) at KEO International Consultants, echoed Juma’s words. Based on his experience with VRF systems in his projects, he said: “Personally, I’ve used it; my team has used it. We have used it for villas in most cases, as well as for community mosques and other buildings. VRF systems have worked diligently over the past few years, with regard to the technology, scope, and adaptability. As a mechanical engineer, my first interest is how to use technology and controls to provide an ideal environment. The technology – with the inverter, expansion valve, temperature control and BMS – is quite suitable with all the control we want to provide. It does help; it does solve a problem when you don’t have District Cooling or chillers.”

Scott Coombes, Director at AESG, however, expressed a note of caution, while sharing insights from a strategic study his company had conducted. He said, “The key finding [of the study] is that there is still a lot of room for the uptake of VRF systems.”

Efficiency A Key Factor
It was not only consultants who endorsed the technology but also developers. Abdelraheem Sallam, Manager of Engineering Services, Real Estate Operations, at Dubai Properties (DP), was one of them. Sallam attended the event with the purpose of looking into new technologies and innovations, and to echo the concerns of many developers, whose main objective is to maximise efficiency. “Power consumption is a major challenge, owing to operational cost,” he said. In light of DP owning and managing approximately 25,000 retail, commercial and residential units, divided according to District Cooling and chilled water systems, Sallam said that approximately 35% of power consumption was allotted for air conditioning, if not greater. “Any percentage we can [therefore] save could be millions on the power bill,” he said. “So, a little change means a lot.”

Bharat Asarpota, Maintenance Engineer (Facilities Outsource) at Emarat, was another representative of an asset-owning company, who spoke on the VRF technology. Saying that he was personally convinced of it, he revealed how Emarat was in the process of upgrading its filling stations to new systems.

To add more grist to the mill, Nakheel, traditionally with a leaning towards chilled water systems, have installed VRF systems in over 40 villas.Nakheel was present at the conference through a representative, as was a representative from Al Qudra Holding, signalling greater acceptance of the technology.

Building On The Momentum
It was felt that in order to maintain the momentum the VRF industry has gained, it is important to have greater clarity on regulation. In a major boost to the industry, regulators and councils were present at the conference, and were able to help in this regard, offering their insights and recommendations to facilitate greater cooperation and ensure that all relevant stakeholders can move forward together. Among them was Carlos Amaya, Senior Specialist, Conformity Scheme Services – Product Conformity, at Abu Dhabi Quality & Conformity Council, who said, “The outlook for VRF is very positive in Abu Dhabi, especially in the residential sector.” Amaya also revealed that Abu Dhabi was developing a roadmap through working closely with HVAC companies to meet particular goals.

There was high expectation from VRF manufacturers in order to understand how Europe has been using SEER for the evaluation of VRF equipment. Two of the presenters from Europe gave clarity on this. Erick Melquiond, President of Eurovent Certita Certification, said: “The work for VRF manufacturers in this country is that you have to define weighted load profile based on your climate. You will have different load profiles and you will have different weightages. The technology is there; you just have to adapt it to the climate in that area.”

Melquiond underlined the importance of making sure building designs were equally as efficient in reality as on paper. Thus, in line with the efforts to increase efficiency and lower consumption, he said that the SEER seasonal weighted average takes into account the reality of changing temperatures.

Andrea Voigt, Director General of EPEE – The European Partnership for Energy and the Environment, while providing a comprehensive overview of the SEER method, said that it aims to set new standards towards energy savings and to further cultivate technological innovation.

Responding to Melquiond and Voigt, Amaya said: “I agree with the European approach, and that it would be much better for the region. As AD QCC, we are happy to facilitate a working group with ESMA and Eurovent to set up a roadmap to come up with a seasonal approach.”

Giving a broad perspective, Dr PR Jagannathan, Manager, Sustainability, at Trakhees, affirmed the value of a customised approach, saying that it was needed for the region in order to know the current state of affairs, and, thus, provide the best solutions. “Buildings are not performing not because they’re not properly designed or constructed,” he said. “Even the best design could have poor to low performance if the end-owner doesn’t understand Green features. If they continue to operate the building like business-as-usual, the building wouldn’t provide the benefits that it promised.”

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