Air-cooled chiller market will lose some of its share to VRFs, says expert

Tariq al Ghussein, CEO, Taqeef, provides an analysis of the chiller market and its position against other AC technologies

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Tariq al Ghussein, CEO, Taqeef.
Tariq al Ghussein, CEO, Taqeef.

Chillers for the future
The chiller market in the Middle East is worth an estimated $800m and it is growing at a rate of 3% per year.  Our commercial buildings, and some of our residential ones too, rely on chillers for comfort. 

However, new technologies in HVAC systems are challenging the traditional methods of cooling our buildings, offering more sustainable and adaptable cooling which meets the needs of the end user and the requirements of
new legislation.

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Product evolution
The impact of legislation on the HVAC market has been huge, and will continue to change the landscape and drive technology advancements. Chiller efficiency is improving with the onset of variable speed adjustment capacity and the use of technologies such as VFD and inverters. Maximum capacities continue to increase, this means that cooling larger areas is becoming more and more affordable and less impactful to the environment. We can cool bigger districts, with smaller machines, which need smaller plant areas, and reduced infrastructure costs.  
The company Midea, for example, is constantly innovating its chiller range and developing new technology to meet the demands of a changing consumer and a changing legislative environment.  Their T3 series is specially designed for our desert conditions that can meet high ambient conditions without compromising efficiency. And, it’s not just efficiency that’s improved, but also capacity and adaptability – with variable speed, and with better connectivity comes more bespoke cooling outputs.  So, cooling that’s tailored to the user’s needs, means better comfort and less wastage.  This will also be further improved with the use of smart controllers which are becoming more and more commonplace.
An example of this can be seen at Dalma Mall, Abu Dhabi, where we installed a centrifugal chiller plant (the most efficient in the world at the time) to replace a water-cooled system which had been designed but couldn’t be realised due to infrastructure restrictions.  This system – a 5 x 2,000 tonne Midea super-high efficiency two-stage centrifugal chillers, equipped with full falling film heat exchangers – achieved 15% savings in its first year alone.  And, of course, even this technology has already made huge leaps since then. Just last month we launched a 3,000-tonne chiller with a series counter-flow arrangement, a compact size and a capacity of 6,000 tonnes, which is a game-changer for us. 

Maintaining efficiency
Of course, chiller efficiency is reliant on proper maintenance and operation. Today’s chiller plants benefit from advanced software that professionalises the behaviour of the chiller at partial load – maximising the efficiency of not just the chiller but all the component parts.  This makes energy savings intuitive so they’re the norm and not the exception. 
Peak performance of the chiller can be easily maintained by simple maintenance, ensuring the tubes are clear and cleaned regularly. In addition, the oil and filters are changed in a timely manner, which will make a big difference to the output.

The market
The chiller market in the UAE is very well established and the technology available is evolving at a pace.  Chillers are increasingly offering more intuitive technology, and better efficiency in smaller packages.  Midea, for example, are currently building a testing facility in China that’s capable of measuring a 4,000 tonne chiller that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.
However, with the chiller market so well established, sometimes industry experts are reluctant to consider alternative technology, which might be better suited to the cooling needs.  Some segments need more responsive systems such as VRFs which offers instant load reduction and even better connectivity to iOS.  So, for housing developments or residential areas, this can give us far more adaptable and tailored cooling.  However, VRF still only accounts for 8% of the market. Why? Industry professionals often specify the technology or system they’re most familiar with instead of that which offers the most effective solution, and it’s here I think the region is missing an opportunity. 
We recently replaced a chiller system with a VRF system in a residential tower block in Dubai. The savings achieved were phenomenal – 66% in the first year.  And, because the tenants were responsible for their own usage, there is also reduced wastage and less environmental impact.  So, these are figures you just can’t argue with.

The future
Long term, I believe the air-cooled chiller market will probably lose some of its share to technologies such as VRFs as the benefits of these newer systems become more widely recognised.  VRF is the fastest growing AC segment in the UAE and will no doubt play a significant part in sustainable refurbishments and new commercial projects in the future. 

Water cooled chillers – a particularly efficient option where there’s an abundance of free water – will, in my view, keep increasing worldwide but will inevitably fall out of favour in our region.  While their capacity is unrivalled, as costs associated with water and piping become more transparent, I believe customers will look for alternative technology.  This could result in growth for air cooled chillers or in some cases a boom in VRF specification and usage.
The advent of smart connected chillers will no doubt continue to drive growth in the market.  With improved performance and reliability comes more comfort and more sustainability; this is a key strategic aim for us at Taqeef and all stakeholders in our industry in the region.  The technology is there, and through the right specification and maintenance we can transform our energy impact, penetrate the market with new and exciting technology and capitalise on the lucrative opportunities presented by the region’s development plans. It’s an exciting time for cooling in the UAE.

Long term, I believe the air-cooled chiller market will probably lose some of its share to technologies such as VRFs as the benefits of these newer systems become more widely recognised.  VRF is the fastest growing AC segment in the UAE and will no doubt play a significant part in sustainable refurbishments and new commercial projects in the future. 
Water cooled chillers – a particularly efficient option where there’s an abundance of free water – will, in my view, keep increasing worldwide but will inevitably fall out of favour in our region.  While their capacity is unrivalled, as costs associated with water and piping become more transparent, I believe customers will look for alternative technology.  This could result in growth for air cooled chillers or in some cases a boom in VRF specification and usage.
The advent of smart connected chillers will no doubt continue to drive growth in the market.  With improved performance and reliability comes more comfort and more sustainability; this is a key strategic aim for us at Taqeef and all stakeholders in our industry in the region.  The technology is there, and through the right specification and maintenance we can transform our energy impact, penetrate the market with new and exciting technology and capitalise on the lucrative opportunities presented by the region’s development plans. It’s an exciting time for cooling in the UAE.

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