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A Ripe Market

Energy-conservation policies, withdrawal of subsidies and strong engagement between developers and consultants – these factors contribute to making Oman an attractive market for energy- efficient technologies and to paving the way for greater adoption of VRF systems

| | Sep 15, 2019 | 9:21 pm
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Dr M Ramaswamy

The sale of VRF systems in Oman has grown substantially in value and total cooling capacity sold, says Dr M Ramaswamy, Technical Expert – Royal Estate, Sultanate of Oman, adding that growth rates in market volume have been higher during the last few years. Habibulla Shali, MEP Head and HVAC Expert in one of the Leading Construction Organization in Oman, shares a similar observation on the growing popularity of VRF technology in the country. “In the last five years, there has been vital acceptance in Oman, as well as in other GCC region countries, for VRF,” he says, pointing out that this is evident in the number of new brands looking to enter the market.

In 2018 alone, the VRF market in Oman was valued between USD 20 and 25 million, says Dharmesh Sawant, Sales Director, Hisense VRF, Qingdao Hisense Hitachi Air-conditioning Marketing Co., Ltd. Numair Alamdar, an independent consultant, expects the figure to grow in the coming years, describing the market as especially promising. He says that considering Oman is placing greater importance on power saving, the country offers a wealth of opportunities, because despite being geographically smaller, it has the added advantage of being a less saturated market, compared to the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Habibulla Shali

Undoubtedly, Dr Ramaswamy says, energy-conservation policies are driving the uptake of VRF systems in the country. “Most of the conventional, unitary-type units do not have the flexibility of sensing the actual indoor conditions, and keep operating with frequent tripping of the compressor, as per the set temperature, overlooking whether actual load is there or not,” he says. “Thus, a designer seeks a system, which saves energy, conserves space, enhances ease of use, delivers ultimate reliability and has the flexibility of a unitary system and part-load capability of a chilled water system, which can work at high-ambient [conditions] and can be installed in a short time.” Dr Ramaswamy says recognition of the fact that multiple compressors can provide greater energy-efficiency and comfort due to reduced short-cycling and increased equipment life, is leading to the use of VRF technology.

VITAL INGREDIENTS

A number of other factors contribute to making Oman an ideal market for VRF systems. Dr Ramaswamy points to the profile of projects within the Sultanate as an example. “Oman is not like UAE and does not have many high-rise buildings,” he says, pointing out that VRF technology is especially good for low-rise developments and that it has been used extensively in office and residential projects in capacities ranging from 5 to 50 TR. Shali adds that so far, clients in Oman consider VRF as the most viable option for such buildings. “In Oman, buildings that are more than 8-10 stories are not available,” he says. “It [the country] has mostly residential buildings and villas, so consultants nowadays are recommending VRF.”

Dr Ramaswamy says that buildings where zoning is important can especially benefit from the system, especially if the zones are small spaces. “VRF is also a good fit for sound-sensitive applications, because the small indoor fans and inverter-driven compressors produce much less noise than traditional HVAC systems,” he adds.

Dharmesh Sawant

GOVERNMENT DIRECTIVES

Strong government directives are also driving adoption of the system. Dr Ramaswamy says that while energy in Oman is highly subsidised, like in other GCC region countries, the government of Oman is planning to slowly withdraw the subsidies in the same manner carried out for petroleum products. “For high-energy-use buildings, either government or private, different tariff rates have already been introduced if the annual consumption exceeds the prescribed limit,” he says. “Hence, most end-users established an energy-conservation department in their organisation set-up. It is a beginning. Any energy-efficient product will surely get wider market acceptance and application in Oman.” Alamdar adds that such initiatives from the government and top-level decision makers of the country will always be the biggest driver for the market, as it has the most influence on the consultants.

Sawant, however, believes that the growing popularity of VRF can largely be attributed to the sophisticated level of understanding consultants in the Sultanate have towards the system. “Oman is a more mature market,” he says. “Even if there is no regulation, still most developers and consultants adopt VRF on their own, because they see it as a value-based solution for their problems.” The benefits, he adds, includes the reduced number of outdoor units when compared to ducted splits, as well as lower service cost. “They really understand how to optimise the capital cost,” he says. “So, the consultants are driving [adoption].”

Numair Alamdar

Another positive factor, Sawant highlights, is the strong engagement between consultants and building owners. “The developers, mostly Omanis, are also very well-educated on the air conditioning system,” he says. “I see a lot of Omanis getting engaged and involved in the design of their project. Because the owner himself is involved, he is looking at the benefit from the after-sales and operational side, since he is going to pay the electricity bill of the AC and, so, wants a better system.” Sawant says that this is in stark contrast to other markets, where often, the developer is completely dependent on consultants, and consultants are not able to see the operational benefit of the system. Alamdar shares a similar observation with regard to consultants in Oman being enabled by developers to specify solutions that offer greater opex savings. “As a matter of approach for projects, it’s more systematic,” he says. “There is more enthusiasm to adopt new technology, especially sophisticated solutions, for power saving, which is something they are very serious about.”

FRUITS OF LONG-TERM MARKET COMMITMENT

Shali believes that the high level of adoption of VRF is also the organic byproduct of long-term efforts on the part of manufacturers to conduct technical training sessions for consultants and to enhance after-sales services. “Ten to fifteen years ago, the consultant used to recommend only conventional systems,” he says. “Manufacturers and dealers educated the consultant, who is now in the position to design the system. Obviously, the client will ask the consultant on cost savings, and they can now explain that if you go with VRF you can save by so and so percentage.”

Shali adds that when the system was first introduced to the market, stakeholders faced the problem of a limited number of technicians experienced in VRF technology and a low availability of spare parts. “With the conventional system, if there is an issue with the compressor, you can replace it immediately,” he says. “But those days, it was very tough, because VRF was new to the market, nobody was there to keep spare parts with them. Now, 100% of the suppliers would have stock, and contractors and sub-contractors are having and keeping spare parts, as well.” He adds that manufacturers also carry warranty for up to five years for compressors, which many consultants see as an added benefit.

SUBJECT TO APPLICATION

Alamdar is quick to point out, however, that while VRF is a good solution, it is by no means the only solution. “Many solutions can be good in Oman,” he says. “It can be a chilled water system, normal DX systems and it can also be VRF systems. It is subject to application.” Weighing
in on the importance of using appropriate technology to address specific project requirements, Dr Ramaswamy points out that a chilled water system, in combination with AHUs, scores high points when it comes to controlling humidity, compared to unitary systems. “Since VRF systems are more flexible, they are better than the conventional unitary-type DX system,” he says, “but, surely, they cannot replace chilled water systems with AHUs.” Dr Ramawamy adds that VRF systems also have limited applications in healthcare facilities, owing to stringent control and filtration requirements.

Shali says VRF technology has significant drawbacks when it comes to tall buildings, as no equipment offering more than 100 TR is available. “We cannot use it in high-rise buildings that require a capacity of 100 tonnes,” he says, as there could be issues related to piping and that it is important to take into consideration space availability in relation to building capacity. “Do we have enough space to keep outdoor units in the rooftop or not?” he asks, underlining the importance of asking the right questions when specifying unitary products. “In some cases, if you use two, or even three, chillers in the rooftop it can take up less space, depending on the capacity of the building.”

Alamdar says that this is where engineering expertise plays a crucial role in discerning which technology would be the most viable option and, subsequently, in its design, installation and commissioning. “It is 100% related to the final application,” he says. “The final application will make it a success or a pain as a system. It’s like choosing a car – a four-wheel drive may be good for certain places but not for all.” Alamdar views VRF technology in the same manner, pointing out that while it has its benefits, at the end of the day, the main player in the Oman market will be
the technology that offers the most power saving for new and existing developments – regardless of whether it’s VRF, chilled water systems or standard DX.


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