It started as a patter, but the drumroll enveloping VRF systems in the Middle East is steadily evolving into a thunder.
Consultants and contractors across the region are waking up to the potential of variable refrigerant flow systems – nearly four decades after the tech was first harnessed by Japanese innovators.
Reaching the GCC via an explosion of popularity in China, VRF systems have steadily been adopted in increased numbers by the construction industry, and it appears they are now sitting on the cusp of a crescendo in the marketplace.
Typically comprising an outdoor module of multiple compressors, the exterior unit supplies numerous indoor units that have the ability to cool different areas of a structure independently.
In contrast to conventional chillers that transfer heat from a zone to the refrigerant via air- or water-circulation, VRF systems transfer heat by circulating refrigerant to designated evaporators.
Greater energy efficiency, use of diversity in loads, precise temperature control, zoned comfort, flexible and modular designs, and easy installation have all served to stimulate market interest.
In a time when everyone is looking for ease of use, VRF systems lend themselves to the axiom that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Utpal Joshi, head of VRF DX consulting sales for Daikin Middle East, believes VRF technology can help the construction industry move closer to the important new zero energy building mark.
“Net zero building is an important benchmark and industry across the spectrum, for all whom are working on it,” he said.
“At Daikin, we think VRV is the most ideal candidate to achieve this. We worked on a project in Germany three years ago which is now already certified as a net zero building (NZEB).
“In the MENA region we have collaborated with Masdar and our participation and support to the Solar Decathlon is showing good results.
“Daikin is working on seasonal efficiency with our patented VRT (variable refrigerant technology), water condensers and testing new refrigerants; all are in part to achieve these systems in commercial applications.
“Our VRT is already requiring 30% less energy and is commercially available in our VRV IV+ series.”
Joshi also believes a renewed push for efficiency, coupled with a growing list of regulations and industry and government requirements, has provided oxygen for the VRF market to grow.
“Regulation for energy efficient products is the need of the hour in the Middle East since most electricity tariffs are subsidised and governments are paying huge prices for it.
“The best way to incentivise people to use energy efficient technology is by making regulations that support the green vision.
“Estidama regulation in Abu Dhabi is a great example where a minimum ‘two-pearl’ rating for all government projects with an EER – the ratio that measures the energy efficiency of cooling performance – of 3.8 for villas has resulted in the delivery of more energy efficient mega complexes.
“Ruwais Housing (663 villas), 500 Hidd Saadiyat villas, and more than 1,000 Al Dar Yas villas, to name a few, are based on VRV technology.
“MEW and SASO are also now increasing minimum energy efficiency levels and promoting inverter with seasonal efficiency – this will further help the VRV industry to grow.”
VRF use in commercial building is growing, but will there come a time when the technology is the best option for high-rise developments?
“Currently, almost 70% of villa complexes use VRV systems due to lower infrastructure costs, better green design, and lower tenant costs, and the technology is further expanding in low-rise buildings as well as the commercial sector," said Joshi.
“We expect more high-rise buildings to adopt VRV systems in time. “Daikin has set an example with a couple of projects, with 35, 44 and even 50-storey towers using full VRV systems.
“Usage is further fuelled by the availability of tenant billing, like power proportional distribution (PPD), to make use of the diversity the technology.”
All this suggests a perfect storm for the traditional AC unit, but Joshi maintained that conventional systems will have a place in the market in the long term.
“DX or traditional split 1-1 systems have their place for economical and small applications, so the market is remaining stable,” he said.
“However, with the introduction of inverter technology, this market segment will also keep up with its market share.”