Cool climates

The extreme heat of the GCC region means that air conditioning is a necessity. Hugo Berger looks into how firms are coupling this with the increasing emphasis on energy efficiency.


The extreme heat of the GCC region means that air conditioning is a necessity. Hugo Berger looks into how firms are coupling this with the increasing emphasis on energy efficiency.

With the desire to be more environmentally friendly, developers and contractors are having to turn to cutting-edge research and development to curtail the huge amounts of energy expended on air conditioning in the Middle East.

Without the cool air systems, living in the region would be almost unbearable. But construction firms are realising that research and development is required to reduce energy output.

The air conditioning market is notoriously competitive, but a number of companies are bringing in new eco-friendly products that they hope will give them an edge over other product manufacturers. One of these firms is Trane Air Conditioning, which has just launched its new Tracer AdaptiView system.

Peter Blanchflower, marketing manager of Trane Middle East, Africa and India, believes that the system has clear-cut advantages over its rivals. "The construction sector is always under pressure to deliver on schedule, in accordance with the specification at the lowest price," states Blanchflower.

This often forces the contractor to break the project down into the smallest elements in an effort to exert maximum control and visibility," he added.

This model has served the industry well for years, but often misses opportunities that are only available when addressing the whole system," stresses Blanchflower.

The Tracer AdaptiView chiller is a computerised system that allows building operating staff to control the temperature of each individual area within the building. Blanchflower explains that contractors could make benefits by delivering a whole heating, ventilation and air conditioning (hvac) system.

"We are able to work with the installer and designer to deliver hvac systems, including factory-commissioned controls that, when viewed as a whole, can actually save time and reduce risk on the project and thereby reduce total costs," explains Blanchflower.

The uptake of vrf systems

Another technology that has gained popularity in the region recently is that of variable refrigerant flow (vrf) systems. Recent research from the UK-based Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA) found that such systems are the fastest growing air conditioning product types in the world.

BSRIA's research found that the vrf market is growing at a double-figure percentage rate across the world. The system was introduced in Japan more than 20 years ago and has already gained popularity in European markets.

Until recently the systems' outdoor units had been unsuitable for use in the Middle East due to the extreme climatic conditions. However, recent innovations mean this is no longer the case and many manufacturers are now offering vrf systems that include outdoor units that have been especially designed for the environmental conditions experienced in the region.

VRF systems are ductless and transfer heat by circulating refrigerant to evaporators that are located near or within individual zones. Conventional systems transfer heat from the space to the refrigerant by circulating air or water throughout the building.

VRF systems are suitable for buildings that have several different zones that all require individual heat controls; this includes schools, hotels, high-rise offices or shopping malls.

Several firms offer such products specifically for the regional market, including LG and Daikin. Daikin recently introduced a water-cooled version for use in new-build commercial projects where no roof or external space is available for outdoor condensing units.

Because the system is very quiet, it can be used for areas where stringent noise restrictions apply. It can be also be fitted to an existing chilled water/cooling tower circuit during refurbishments.

Daikin Middle East general manager Saidja Geirnaert states that the system has numerous advantages over alternative technologies. Benefits include high levels of energy efficiency and the fact that its lightweight design means it can be installed simply and speedily.

The small-bore piping system can be installed on a floor-by-floor basis, so that sections of a building can be put in use quickly," explains Geirnaert. "This means that the air conditioning system can be commissioned and operated in stages rather than on final completion.

Health considerations

Ease of construction is not the only issue that is currently affecting the air conditioning market. Numerous studies have found that poorly installed or maintained air conditioning systems can cause lung diseases by spreading dust, spores and, in extreme cases, deadly illnesses like Legionnaire's Disease.

The air conditioning manufacturers have been focusing on the health implications of their products and all the major firms have introduced features or new products specifically aimed at tackling the issues. Panasonic, for example, recently launched its E-Ion air purifying system, which includes a built-in air purifier, into the Middle East market.

Abby Thomas, marketing and sales manager, Panasonic Middle East, explained that although the product is currently only available in individual units, the firm is planning to launch the product in a bulk-buy model for developers and contractors within the near future.

My advice to MEP companies is, if you want an air conditioner that lasts a long period of time and if you are concerned with the people staying in your building, then don't go for the package-type air conditioners," states Thomas.

"Any heavy-duty, commercial product doesn't have the filtration process, they just pump the same air from room to room," he adds. "Although the initial costs [of the alternative units] are a bit more, you will make savings in the long run by saving energy.

Thomas stresses that the E-Ion system will not only lead to cleaner, healthier air, it will also operate more efficiently in the extreme heat of the GCC. "During the summer, when the temperature outside crosses 50°C, many compressors fail, so this year we have introduced 55°C compressors," he explained.

"With this 55°C compressor, even though the temperature goes up, if it is a 52°C compressor, it will be working at its maximum and will use a lot of energy. In terms of energy saving, [the 55°C models] are 15% better than a 52°C compressor," he states.

Environmentally friendly cooling

As saving energy is perhaps the key issue affecting the area's construction industry, all the companies are keen to boast their green credentials.Blanchflower comments: "At Trane we work with facility owners, developers, designers and installers at a senior level to reduce operating costs and raise productivity over the life of the building." But he stressed that more needs to be done in this field.

"While a great deal of work is being undertaken by Trane and many others to deliver hvac systems that are more efficient and therefore environmentally sustainable, clearly much more effort and progress are required," he adds.

Trane recently commissioned a report into energy efficiency, which found energy analysis software could help reduce costs. The report's author, systems engineer Chris Hsieh, said that the software could help design systems that could save up to 30% in energy costs. Hsieh states: "High efficiency shouldn't stop at chillers.

Ancillary equipment, such as water pumps and cooling towers can help save even more energy and money.

A system designed with low flow of water and air can reduce energy consumption at several areas in the system," he explains. "Less water flows through the system and it uses smaller pipes and pumps," he adds.

As the quest to be more environmentally friendly becomes more urgent, air conditioning companies are embracing the challenge.

RELATED LINKS: Cool thinking for the future, Intelligent operations, Chiller action

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