The high sales of chillers is led by the purchasing power of government-funded projects and other ongoing construction activity in the Middle East.
Yet there are those who say that new technologies such as VRF systems might outgrow the chiller market. Even though VRF is an attractive option for many applications, markets for rooftop units and chilled water systems will continue to exist, although it may be shrinking.
However, Burhan Jaber, engineering and R&D director at SKM Air Conditioning, lays to rest such notions that the chiller market growth is dwindling. He says that the chiller industry has been very innovative to keep up with the pace. “Developments on variable speed compressors with permanent magnet motors and oil-free compressors, in our view, will boost the market share of the chiller in the Middle East,” Jaber says. “New technologies developed in heat exchangers will further improve its attainable efficiencies in part-load and full-load; in addition, reducing the refrigerant charge will minimise the negative direct environmental impact.
“Chiller manufacturers are also looking into integrating renewable energy systems like thermal hybrid panels that harness solar energy which in turn adds pressure and heat in the refrigeration cycle and thus displaces a portion of mechanical energy by keeping the compressor in the low stage.
“It has also become a common feature for chillers in the Middle East to have heat recoveries like heat reclaim condensers or partial heat recovery to save energy in meeting the heating demands of the building. It also offers free cooling options during the low ambient season.”
Jaber says that an important feature chiller products is its capability to store thermal energy during off-peak hours by having a dual mode. He explains: “Day mode which is for cooling operation in the day and night mode for ice generation during off-peak hours at night.”
Also, when it comes to low-GWP (global warming potential) refrigerants chiller product developments globally are now legislation driven considering the EU F-gas regulation and the Kigali Amendment to Montreal Protocol. He says: “Most common developments in air-cooled chillers are with R1234ze that has very low GWP, A2L safety classification, and compatibility with most of existing compressors and heat exchangers which makes it a solution for air-cooled chillers segment. Other options includes HFO/HFC blends like R513A are available in some markets.”
In order to increase operational and energy efficiency, chillers need to be successfully integrated to increase comfort, safety and security for occupants. However, people argue that in chillers all this data is inside the system, as those communication protocols are proprietary for each HVAC chiller manufacturer, making them closed for third-party integration. Jaber says that nowadays, chiller units come with controls that can interface with multiple BMS protocols.
He says: “Most of the chillers are equipped with hardwired signals and software protocols which are plug and play solutions to connect any BMS with chillers. On hardwired signals, most of the chillers have provision for remote on/off as a standard feature. On the software interface, most of the controllers are coming with built-in BACnet IP, Modbus RTU and Modbus IP BMS protocols connectivity, which provides an easy way of connecting the chillers to BMS for monitoring and control purposes.” Such smart moves from the chiller sector will ensure its position in the market place.