In case you missed it, Lot 21 or directive (EU) 2016/2281 which came into effect at the beginning of 2018 is now starting to have an effect on the choices available for air conditioning, heating and cooling products, high temperature process chillers and fan coil units.
This will start to impact on the UK Chiller sector in particular, where the industry has grown familiar with products that will now need to change.
In broad terms, any new cooling equipment entering the European market from January must meet new minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) specifically depending on the type and size of chiller.
Lot 21 includes high-temperature process chillers and condensing units, and comfort chillers and this is where I predict we will see the most changes in the market over the next 5-10 years.
A Chiller can have an average lifespan of 15-20+ years but if the unit is in almost constant use at full operational capacity and is not being maintained adequately, then the lifespan would certainly be shorter.
With this in mind, there will be a lot of existing equipment in use that simply would not come anywhere near the minimum efficiency standards which are now in force. This old and now inefficient equipment is almost certainly adding to the operational costs of the plant and/or buildings they are serving.
So you can see that there is a bit of an issue with what has served the UK well until now.
Challenging the ‘norm’
In the UK, it is estimated that around 90% of current comfort chillers are traditional ‘fixed speed’, meaning they are either ‘On’ at full power, or ‘Off’, although some are able to unload power to allow them to run at half capacity or 50%.
We are all now familiar with the ground breaking Turbo core and the more traditional screw compressor, as well as the smaller and well-received inverter scroll compressors (that are really only considered for smaller applications).
Whilst developments over the years has meant performance improvements in these traditional chiller technologies, only Turbo core and top-end inverter screw systems can match the efficiency of the new kid on the block – modular chillers and these modern, inverter-driven units are now seriously challenging the accepted “norm” of chiller configurations.
Part of this is the simple fact that modular chillers are available ‘off-the-shelf’ rather than needing the traditional 6-8 week build time that the industry has got used to.
Where have they come from?
These smaller units have been introduced to the UK market for two main reasons. One is the increase in efficiency, which will help building operators meet the requirements of Lot 21.
The other is driven more by the effects that the F-gas phasedown is bringing to the UK and European markets. This is focusing on the global warming potential (GWP) of the refrigerants used within Chillers and is forcing change upon the industry.
So where do these ‘new’ modular chiller units come from?
Well they are not actually new having been used in Japan and the Far East for years … in fact the Japanese market is pretty much the exact opposite of the UK market, with 90% or more supplied by air-cooled, modular chillers. This may come as a bit of a surprise until you start look at the space requirements and examine the operating characteristics.
Japan more than most countries has a very high population density which leads to less and less plant space available for HVAC equipment. This will sound all too familiar to anyone involved in the design and installation of HVAC in the UK. In air conditioning, where VRF is considered impractical then you need the next best thing, which is where the modular chiller comes from.
Firstly the simple fact that they are modular means that whatever plant area is available and whatever shape it is, you can configure the system to maximise the deliverable cooling or heating capacity.
Traditional chillers have a given foot print coupled with a fixed space required for service. The density of today’s and tomorrow’s urban situations may simply not be able to offer the space required.
Secondly, inverter-driven systems by their nature operate with high efficiency as they modulate to only consume enough power required at any given time, providing improved operational costs when compared to any fixed-speed chiller.
Is there a catch?
Being inverter-driven the scrolls deliver an operating performance from 10-100% which is a new record for chillers.
The efficiency under EN14825 is also the same as a turbo core chiller, ranging from 5.2 to 5.66, so these are both plus’ for the modular chiller.
However the real ace could be the fact that they are in essence small heat pumps, capable of both heating and cooling.
Traditionally a 4-pipe fan coil project would consist of a chiller for cooling and a gas boiler for heating. However with the government reviewing the 1956 Clean Air Act, gas boilers are now proving to be very difficult to use.
More recently we have seen the gas boiler augmented by CHP and, even more recently, heat pumps to provide a better CO2 saving.
At the same time, the predicted lowering of grid emissions as a consequence of Part L 2019 seriously challenges the case for CHP both for financial reasons and for the CO2 emission saving.
So we are now on the hunt for a low carbon heating solution … and heat pumps are in many people eyes (including that of Government) the answer.
Enter stage right
This is where the modular inverter chiller has such a promising future.
Modular inverter heat pump chillers could easily connect to a heating and cooling header and the pipe work configured, so that each chiller has the ability to provide either chilled water to the cooling header to LTHW to the heating header.
Hey presto you have a high efficiency chiller and a low carbon heating solution all in one system.
This would enable simultaneous heating and cooling all year, and with the use of a heat recovery chiller – which re-uses the waste heat from cooling to provide some or all of the hear source for heating – the base simultaneous heating and cooling load could be delivered, using this heat recovery chiller and not only recovering the heat but also raising the CO2 emission savings in the process.
Adding another option
Mitsubishi Electric purchased the Climaveneta and RC Group range of Chillers and IT Cooling solutions last year and are now able to offer a complete range of solutions.
So we are also seeing more and more ‘traditional’ chiller systems working in tandem with super-efficient heat pumps for heating and this remains a highly effective solution.
I think this is probably how the majority of projects will transition over the next 5-10 years from the high carbon, high running costs associated with old chiller plant and gas boilers.
However, for those prepared to look to the future now, a modular, inverter heat pump chiller option will effectively provide both heating and cooling and will lower both running costs and emissions over the more traditional approach.
And as legislative pressure on energy use increases, we will need to see a move to these much more efficient methods.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that the overarching aim of all this legislative pressure is to eliminate energy-intensive products throughout Europe, ultimately culminating in a target to reduce European carbon emissions by 30% by 2030 (revised in 2016 from original target of 20% by 2020).