How Manufacturers Tailor Chillers To Facility Needs
Consider the strides in control systems; technology advances in compressors, heat-move materials and variable-speed drives; and chillers that use different refrigerants. The consequence is a different and flexible range of chillers to meet facility needs.
As the market for chillers within commercial and institutional facilities has evolved, manufacturers have responded with updated products. For example, the need for substitute units in existing facilities has grown steadily, so manufacturers have rolled out chillers that are as energy efficient but can be retrofit into existing buildings.
Today, chillers tend to be modular in construction. This construction allows them to be taken apart and moved into buildings by existing doors.
Another important change in the marketplace relates to the mindset of buyers: the rise of life-cycle costing. Where once the focus was on first cost, building owners and operators today often take greater pains to determine the complete cost of operating a piece of equipment over its complete life. The fallout has been greater emphasis on such factors as part-load efficiency, monitoring and maintenance capabilities, and system flexibility.
Facility concerns over controlling energy use also have led to emotional changes in chiller efficiency.
There have been steady improvements in the design of centrifugal chillers and their performance is much better. An important development in this area is the expanded use of variable speed drives (VSD). As the price of VSDs drops, manufacturers expect to use them more in screw compressor chillers.
Maintenance and monitoring
Mindful of the growing scrutiny of the effects of CFC-based refrigerants on the ecosystem, facilities are focusing on leak prevention to minimize the loss of refrigerants. As a consequence, manufacturers have changed the designs of such elements as couplings and fittings to tighten up chillers.
Keeping the refrigerant in the machine is not only good for the ecosystem but ensures the performance of the machine is not degrading over time due to loss of refrigerants.
The extensive use of microprocessors also has enhanced the ability of operators and technicians to monitor equipment operation, both in the facility and from far away locations.
Todays controls have almost deleted the need for the manual recording of data points on a chiller. The unit-mounted microprocessor-based controls allow the information that is important to be logged on a chiller to be observed automatically.
While electric chillers keep a popular choice for applications in many facilities, managers are taking a closer look at gas and steam chillers, in addition as other equipment combinations. Their intent in many situations is to determine whether a hybrid chiller plant, one combining chillers using several types of fuels, can help them take advantage of changing fuel prices and maximize the payback on equipment investments.
In a society with deregulated utilities, hybrid chiller plants give a building owner the flexibility to use the most cost-effective energy source to produce chilled water in an ecosystem where utility rates can change very rapidly. The consequence often is greater bargaining strength for the facility.
Future trends related to chiller purchases in some situations are extensions of current issues. Take life-cycle costing, for example.
A continued trend will be the evaluation of chiller purchases based on life-cycle operating costs and maintenance costs, in addition as first costs. The new trend will be for the examination to look outside the chillers and include the rest of the chiller plant.
Just as chiller manufacturers in past years have pushed for technology innovations that raise energy efficiency and reliability, the not-too-distant future is certain to bring more advances.
The evolution of refrigerant as an issue in equipment specification will continue, in addition. Where once it held the highest of priorities in many facilities, that is no longer the case.
Refrigerant is not the driving issue it once was. New refrigerants will give equipment owners and operators nevertheless more options in their efforts to ensure chillers contribute to overall facility efficiency and productivity.
The central role of chillers in ensuring facilities overall energy efficiency has helped both manufacturers and consumers refocus their attention on changes in these meaningful pieces of equipment.