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Industry expert highlights benefits of PCM-based Thermal Energy Storage

Lack of technical understanding and price-centric market are the main bottlenecks to greater penetration in the Middle East, expert says

| | Aug 8, 2018 | 4:28 pm
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Dubai, UAE, 8 August 2018: Thermal Energy Storage (TES), the storage of high or low temperature energy for later use, aims to bridge the time gap between energy requirement and energy use. For HVAC and refrigeration application purposes, Phase Change Materials (PCM) overcome the disadvantages of water and ice as principle storage media, by combining the latent and sensible energy storage capacities into a single storage unit. Zafer Ure, Managing Director, Phase Change Material Products, spoke extensively about the benefits of this approach, as well as bottlenecks preventing greater penetration of effective and low-energy design, using PCM-based TES cooling and heating, in the Middle East.

Ure explained that PCM latent heat cool energy storage can be provided by utilising conventional water chillers for new and retrofit applications without the need for any modifications, with the added benefit of free cooling. “By storing day-time warm energy for evening periods and over-night cool energy for day-time cooling requirements, a PCM system can simply bridge the gap between energy availability and energy use and therefore has the potential to achieve considerable environmental, as well as economic, benefits for many heating and cooling applications.”

A carefully balanced PCM-based TES, Ure said, in addition to being an environmentally friendly design utilising free or waste energy, offers significant savings in operational cost. Ure added that it is also an ideal stand-by capability in case of power cuts or major machinery failures in data centres. Lastly, he said, it helps extending the lifetime of critical components such as compressors, by reducing the mechanical and heat stresses generated by the hot ambient conditions in the Middle East on such equipment. Therefore, it provides higher reliability and reduced maintenance cost.

Ure shared that there has been wide acceptance of TES in Europe, America and Australia, where the contracting base and design culture is strong. “The engineering community accept and know the value of the right technology for the right application,” he said. “If you design properly and economically, it has advantages. It will still cost money but considering the benefits down the road, quite often building owners pay the difference.”

This, Ure said, is not the case in the Middle East. Despite having a number of project references in the region to prove its application in high-ambient conditions, the Haramain train stations in Saudi Arabia being one of the prime examples, Ure said that lack of understanding, coupled with a price-centric market and subsidised low electricity cost, serve as the main obstacles preventing stronger penetration of PCM-based TES.

Any thermal storage, as an addition to conventional systems, Ure said, costs money and, while it offers reasonable payback, the lack of understanding serves as a barrier. “Thermal storage is not like selling a chiller unit or air conditioner,” he stressed. “It needs an added layer of engineering knowledge and design. Unfortunately, a majority of the designers are employed based on cost to secure their contract and, therefore, they focus on the least time-consuming conventional designs and rely on the manufacturers to do most their jobs. Hence, they do not have any funds to cover any detailed design and economic studies for any TES concept.”

Ure said that a standard 200-tonne chiller with AHU and FCU design is cheaper to install and people know how to maintain them. On the other hand, he said, the technical understanding required of TES puts people off. Ure added that the issue is also the installation quality of the labourers and the support TES requires. He stressed that even the best design must be underpinned with strong installation and maintenance practices, which are sorely lacking in the region.

Ure said that he believes the lack of enthusiasm plaguing consultants across the Middle East prevents innovative designs and technologies from being properly executed and implemented, to the detriment of the region’s built-environment. With the gap in the level of understanding proving a barrier to more efficient design mechanisms, Ure placed heavy emphasis on the importance of informing and training the region with productindependent
information. Ure added a more collaborative approach would help in this regard, be it in the form of specialised CPD courses, seminars or technical literature. “At the end of the day,” he said, “you need to inform people what can be done, and it starts with studying, exploring and educating. This would help in introducing decision-makers, especially end–users, to new technologies and innovative ideas in order to achieve environmentally friendly and economically acceptable built-environment applications in the region.”


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