For the past decade, buffeted by economic headwinds and a sharp increase in calls for action to address climate change, innovation and energy efficiency have been the primary drivers of the chillers market. To meet market demands, manufacturers has developed an array of chillers that are smart and consume less power.
Jointly, the evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the 2016 Kigali Agreement, have been major factors that are mapping out the energy efficiency dimension of the HVAC market. Apart from the Kigali Agreement, energy-related regional vision documents, like the UAE Energy Plan 2050, which aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 70%, have been persuading manufacturers to align themselves to energy- efficiency goals.
The green agenda
Ever since global warming came into sharp focus, nearly two decades ago, energy efficiency has been a focal point, and almost every sector has been focussing on jumping on the ‘green wagon’. For the chillers segment, a green agenda is an integral part of all planning and implementation policies. The underlying principle to determine a chiller’s efficiency is the full-load kW/tonne and the integrated part-load value (IPLV). As B S Prashanth, Associate Vice- President, ACBG, Eros Group, says, “Chillers are categorised based on full-load and part-load efficiency.”
But which of the categorisations is the most preferred? Speaking on this, Burhan Jaber, Engineering and R&D Director, S.K.M Air Conditioning, says: “Energy Efficiency should not just be considered solely on full-load conditions but also the part-load conditions.”
Sharing a similar view, Levent Taşkın, President, Danfoss Turkey, Middle East and Africa, adds: “The fundamental criteria for selecting a chiller is the building size, energy intensity and building usage. It is also important to check the price of energy for the building and, if it is appropriate, for high- ambient usage. Regulations differ for each location, but most consider the part-load efficiency.”
Apart from the full-load and part-load considerations, stakeholders like Lars-Olof Johansson, Managing Director, Scandinavian Cooling Systems, believe that best practices, like the selection of low- or zero-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants, such as ammonia, would contribute to the green agenda. “A typical coefficient of performance (COP) value for Freon systems is in the range of 2-2.5, while a typical COP value for ammonia systems ranges from 5-7,” he says. Therefore, he adds, “using ammonia as a refrigerant can save up to two-thirds of the energy consumption and reduce the global warming effect.”
With the industry becoming more sensitive towards global warming, other stakeholders, like Tobias Wolf, Product Manager, STULZ, a UK-based company, says: “As a company, we have stopped using HCFC refrigerants many years ago. The HFC refrigerants that are in use have an ozone-depleting potential of zero.”
Speaking on the use of other refrigerants that impacts global warming, Taşkın adds: “We are pleased to see that 40% of the market has now moved from R22/R407C to R410A, and this will continue with the efforts made by the industry. We have observed that Saudi Arabia has already phased out R22 since 2015, in response to the Montreal Protocol.”
Explaining how the industry is striving to align itself with the Kigali Agreement, Jaber says that S.K.M is focusing on more than one type of ozone-friendly and low-GWP refrigerant. “We have heavily invested in research and development of units with HFO and HFO/HFC blends,” he says. “Recently, we have successfully developed and tested the R1234ze chiller, which is designed to meet the high-ambient and harsh conditions of the region.”
Raffi Kazazian, Director, Energy Solutions, Taqeef, explains how his company is striving towards the green agenda. He says: “Sustainability in design and building construction continues to drive the development agenda throughout the UAE. Government-driven targets – including those of the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy, to save power consumption by 30% by 2030 are setting out a robust framework for action. It’s against this backdrop that we created the energy solutions division at Taqeef. Our specialist team works with government, commercial and residential clients to develop world-class applications for energy-efficiency improvements, building retrofit and District Cooling projects.”
Although the trends are driving towards green chemical refrigerants, another trend that is gaining momentum is the use of water as a refrigerant in adsorption chillers.
Explaining the concept behind adsorption chillers, Dinesh Gupta, President, Bry-Air (Asia), says: “Considering the load on the electricity grid is intense, our focus is to use water as a refrigerant, since it is pure green in nature, and in principle, there is no refrigerant that completely fits the framework of the green principles.”
Explaining the dynamics of the adsorption chillers, Gupta explains that the chiller uses water as a refrigerant, and it cuts cooling costs up to 99%. He says: “By using the silica gel-water pair, the product helps harness waste heat generated from boilers, furnaces and exhausts, and green energy from hot water solar collectors to produce chilled water for low-cost process cooling and air-conditioning. The chiller has advantages, like ultra-low electricity consumption, negligible noise and vibration, a low-maintenance profile, and has a life expectancy of more than 25 years.”
Elaborating on the indoor chillers manufactured by STULZ, Wolf says: “Our chillers are designed for mission-critical applications, such as data centres and medical equipment facilities. In comparison to comfort cooling, these applications demand high availability and energy efficiency.”
Further explaining the benefits of an indoor chiller, Wolf points out to its ability to comply with challenging noise restrictions of the installation site or surrounding areas.
While a rooftop chiller includes all components in one outdoor unit, he says, an indoor chiller system is split into two, with the indoor unit emitting noise from its compressors and pumps, and the outdoor unit, which is either the condenser or dry cooler that dissipates the heat.
The penetration of IoT in the overall HVAC industry has changed the chiller market landscape, owing to the availability of enhanced control features and data. Without an iota of doubt, IoT plays a key role in boosting energy efficiency.
Speaking on the available IoT solutions for chillers and how they are driving up energy efficiency, Philipose Jacob, General Manager, Middle East, Honeywell Building Solutions, says: “Our chiller optimisation programme allows users to further guarantee savings. Through calibrated sensors, analysing data across critical operating parameters specific to a users’ chiller plant, it’s possible to identify operating issues and actions to improve system efficiency as well as perform fault detection and diagnostics.”
Further elaborating on how IoT is being integrated with chillers, Jacob adds that maintenance teams can utilise the building performance data, sourced from the Honeywell Outcome Based Service, to focus on maintenance activities, especially of chillers and use the algorithms to identify anomalies associated with key operating parameters.
With the asset health method, he adds, users can identify non-performing components and usage trends, thus preventing faster degradation of other components, such as motors, which may be consuming more energy than required, owing to the overload.
Jacob further points out that customers can also be advised on the replacement costs based on the real-time condition of the assets and make more informed ‘repair’ (opex) vs ‘replace’ (capex) decisions.
With innovations come opportunities for the chiller market, especially in the retrofit block. Sharing details of a retrofit project, Johansson explains how his company had retrofitted GAC Logistics park by replacing the existing system with a new NH3/ammonia system. Before the installation, the power consumption was 13,200,000 kWh/year, but after the project was retrofitted, the consumption recorded 4,400,000 kWh/year.
Like every other sector, challenges are aplenty for the chiller market, with price being one of them. Different HVAC segments appear to pose a “threat for the chillers sector,” says Zoltan Karpathy, Manager – Intelligent Buildings and Homes, BSRIA.
Basing his contention on a study by BSRIA, Karpathy adds that while the value of the chillers market is high, the share of the variable refrigerant flow (VRF) is increasing. “In the UAE, VRF is still a fraction over chillers, but when you take a closer look at the fraction, it is growing more than expected,” he says.
From the price point of view, Kazazian points out that amidst a capex bias market, it is the balance between capex and opex that is a crucial driver for his company, with quality as the prime focus.
Further elaborating on the capex perspective, Gupta adds: “The biggest market challenge is the capex, and we are trying to seed the market with whatever little margin we have, but the challenge is to bring down the cost and still bring the technology into play.”
Mirroring the views of Kazazian and Gupta on the capex issue, Johansson says, “The main challenge is to inform the clients to have patience and look into the longer-term perspective.” However, he believes that even in this situation, the silver lining is if the energy prices are up then clients will be motivated to look at more energy-efficient solutions to reduce the opex.
The other challenge, Gupta identifies is the awareness level amongst the end-users, who are not fully knowledgeable about the availability of green technologies. “There is no ready market for the adsorption chillers, but we see this as an opportunity to inform end-users about the technology and educate them on the benefits of our available applications,” he says.
While the primary challenge for the industry is the drive towards energy efficiency, owing to the demands by governments and the Kigali Agreement, issues like cost, level of awareness and growth of other HVAC segments are hurdles that the industry has to jump over to remain in the fray.