Dubai, UAE: Manufacturers of VRF systems often talk of what they consider the many virtues of the technology, including the flexibility and scalability it offers, and also the part-load efficiencies and zone-based cooling control. Hassan Younes, Technical Director & Partner of Griffin Consultants, also points out to the space-saving feature of VRF systems. He recounts how in the case of a particular building, the client wanted to use a conventional DX system, only to change his mind when Younes and his team showed him a design with VRF systems, where a lot of valuable real estate space opened up, when compared to the space that would be available if the client were to install conventional DX systems. “I think VRF is a very good option for small, medium and even large buildings,” Younes says. But there are some drawbacks, he adds. “If I am modelling a VRF, and I don’t have the software, I might move away to a water-cooled chiller, so this is something for manufacturers to look at and have the owners of the software to integrate with the system,” Younes further adds.
It is niggling issues such as this that is preventing the market for VRF systems from expanding in the Middle East. As Nabil Shafa Amry, Manager (MEP), La Casa Architects and Engineering Consultants, points out: “Less than five per cent of the buildings in the UAE are using VRFs. The cost of a VRF is same as a chiller, but a chiller is more popular, because VRF is a new technology. Many are hesitant to use it, because they think it is difficult to install and maintain.”
Amry points out to how when consultants make a cost comparison between a normal DX system and a VRF system, or between a chiller and a VRF system, they consider opex, which is three-fold in nature – power consumption, maintenance and lifetime. The power consumption of a VRF system is much less than that of a chiller, he says. However, he adds, the lifetime of a VRF is less than that of a chiller. “So the cost of changing the VRF after a while gets added to the opex,” he says.
Scott Coombes, Director at AESG, says that VRFs can do much better once they become more economically viable. He expects the market for VRF systems to grow in the next five to 10 years. Adds Amry: “In the future, many more manufacturers will be in the market and so the price will come down. And if manufacturers can take care of maintenance and after-sales service, there are opportunities for VRF systems.”
JM Bhambure, Executive Vice President at Blue Star Limited (India), is also optimistic about VRFs finding a wider acceptance in the market. As the ecosystem of installers and the availability of spare parts develop, VRFs will widely be used for retrofit jobs, he predicts. Dharmesh Sawant, Senior Manager – HVAC Engineering 1 Team at LG Electronics Gulf (Middle East & Africa), also strikes an optimistic note when he says that he sees the trend moving in the right direction. In the case of LG, he says, the percentage of VRFs out of total sales has increased tremendously. “About 70% of our total sales are VRFs,” he says. “I won’t say it is an indicator, but it is a good one.”
By way of understanding what the future holds for VRF systems, Zhongbo Cao, Sales Director at Ningbo AUX Electric Company, which is represented by Royal Cool in the region, says that the United States is an indication of the growing popularity of VRF systems. “Everybody would expect the commercial air conditioning market there to be dominated by US brands, but the United States is the fourth largest global market for VRFs, he says. And this has happened in four to five years. Adding to this, Bhambure says that VRF is the only segment that has eaten into the ducted system and conventional chiller markets in India. Fady Nassar, Director of Unitary Business at S.K.M Air Conditioning, bolsters the argument by pointing out to how VRFs command 85% of the total air conditioning market in Turkey and North Africa. “As a company,” he says, “we thought if we are not into VRFs now, we might lose out on the chance to come on the train.”
(The writer is the Editor of Climate Control Middle East and the Editorial Director & Associate Publisher of CPI Industry.)