The VRF market in the Middle East is driven by population growth and an increasing number of large urban development projects.
According to Rahul Duragkar, managing director at Emitech, the VRF market has been growing on a year-on-year basis. He says: “If you compare the last five years, there has been a wider acceptance for VRF systems [in the Middle East]. For low-rise buildings, people consider VRFs as the most viable option. Also, because of the new ESMA (Emirates Authority For Standardization and Metrology) regulation, the prices of normal ACs have gone up and this makes VRFs as a preferred choice.”
So are VRFs are taking over the chiller market in the Middle East? Duragkar says, “not exactly”. He says that chillers are a universal system and that nothing can beat water. He explains: “Water is the best medium for cooling. We can have easy distribution in a most complex network through hydronics, which is not possible with VRFs. So it will not outgrow [chillers] but there will always be an option where VRFs are preferred over chillers in terms of operating costs, maintenance costs, replacement costs, lifecycle costs, etc.”
There are several benefits for contractors when using VRF systems. Duragkar draws a comparison: “The chilled water system has a complex nature. More expertise is required in terms of installation. There are maintenance issues; the hydronic system has to be properly selected and balanced in order to get the desired airflow and cooling capacities.
“In comparison, VRF is mostly a factory calibrated system which does not require such a detailed selection or engineering. You have trained VRF installation technicians who follow a software program and distribution network provided by the VRF manufacturer. You can easily install it. It is quite simple but you need to be an expert in the subject.”
A better option
Duragkar says that currently there is a lack of understanding among people for VRFs systems. The mindset also needs to change. He says: “People have been using chiller systems for ages. They still feel that the amount of cooling performance and the capability that chiller systems provide are not available from other systems. VRF is looked at as a refined version of the split unit. If it is a big capacity installation, people will most likely opt for with chillers. When it comes to a range between 100 to 300 tonnes, there is always a comparison between chillers and VRFs. However, when it is an individual system, VRF is the best option. VRFs are ideal for low-rise buildings or villas.”
With VRFs, the installation can be faster. Duragkar says: “We can have faster completion time as compared to chillers. You don’t require the amount of chilled water piping as needed for chillers; so that work is reduced. The overall coordination is less. The project can be more simplified if you have VRFs rather than chillers.” All this will help a contractor in execution.
However, there are some challenges with VRFs as it is still an upcoming system in this region. “The initial cost must also be justified,” adds Duragkar. “Manufacturers come up with new versions of VRFs. The price increase between old and new versions is quite high. Although they are offering a better technology, as an end-user or consultant, people still look at the price.
“Overall, VRFs will turn out to be 10-15% more efficient than chillers but again that will depend on the size and usage. But if the initial cost recovery is going to be 5+ years, then the customer may not be interested. The initial cost has to be lowered.”
Emitech Experience Centre
Emitech has come up with the concept of an experience centre where it has created a mock-up apartment with installation of air-conditioning systems. Duragkar says: “We will be making it live very soon. The aim is to help the customer decide if he/she wants to opt for chillers, conventional splits, or VRFs. We call it the Emitech Experience Centre, where we have developed a mock-up apartment with open ceilings and walls. It has all the features of a standard villa or apartment and we have VRF installations just to show the customer of how the installation is done, where the machines will be located, how simple the installation can be, what the noise level will be, etc.”
Duragkar says that such a centre will help the customer and consultant arrive at a decision. The centre can demonstrate live operation. He says: “The moment you walk in you will feel like you are walking into a small villa or apartment. All types of models are installed in the apartment. It has a live control system. We can also the see the power difference between a conventional system and VRFs. It will be monitored on a regular basis.”
VRFs boast advantages such as high energy efficiency, precise temperature control, zoned comfort, flexible and modular designs, easy installation and easy to use controls, among others. Emitech’s Centre will definitely help people realise this.