Air conditioning and refrigeration contractors face myriad day-to-day tasks just to keep their businesses ticking over, but they cannot afford to lose sight of the bigger picture, says Daikin Applied product development manager James Henley.
Keeping clients happy and tackling routine maintenance tasks keep most of us busy on a daily basis. Finding time to look up from the immediate challenge to put long-term management strategies in place is tough. However, this is not something we can leave until tomorrow.
Soaring refrigerant prices and severely curtailed supplies due to the F-gas phase down are combining with increasing energy efficiency and safety requirements to make this an extremely challenging year. We need to put strategic management plans in place that go well beyond our day-to-day concerns if we are take this on successfully.
Brexit is around the corner, but the UK is already committed to meeting the European Union’s targets of cutting energy use by 27% and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030. For the ACR sector, these twin challenges require a carefully balanced approach – particularly in light of the fact that we must now work with a range of new refrigerant – and non-refrigerant – substances.
The chiller market is evolving fast thanks to a combination of EU regulations – the Ecodesign Directive (Lot 21) and the F-Gas refrigerant phase-down. End users are also having a bigger influence in the selection of chillers because they are increasingly aware of the likely cost of future maintenance – and the threat of being left with non-compliant plant.
There are also a number of operational issues we must address as an industry – not least careful recycling and reuse of refrigerant gas cylinders.
The European contractors’ group AREA recently issued guidance highlighting number of “bad habits” that are adding to the supply pressures on refrigerants already imposed by F-Gas. For example, they said many contractors send bottles back to wholesalers with significant amounts of refrigerant left inside simply to avoid paying rental fees.
That perfectly usable gas is then lost to the system. AREA suggests contractors aggregate small amounts of virgin refrigerant into a clean receiver cylinder instead.
“This is a sustainable management of refrigerant gases from an environmental point of view anyway, but is an increasingly sensible way of dealing with gases whose value increases monthly,” says AREA.
Everyone is busy and sometimes it is difficult to implement management systems that capture this kind of common sense thinking and embed it into working practices, but it will be increasingly important that we do so in the coming months and years.
At Daikin Applied, we have been focussing on R&D to ensure the market has the equipment choices it needs with this medium to long-term picture in mind. Part of this development is due to our inherent desire to push the boundaries, striving for the next great innovation, but fast track development is also driven by the changing demands of markets and legislation – and an understanding that we need to future proof designs for the peace of mind of both the contractor and the end user.
If we get product development right, then the market will be able to cope more easily with the shift to new refrigerants and will avoid any further ‘cliff edge’ drops in availability. Ecodesign has imposed higher energy efficiency requirements, but the need to shift to lower GWP refrigerants because of F-Gas means we have a careful balancing act to perform in order to get best value for clients.
Whilst these development targets should go hand in hand, there are at times conflicts between the two and this is where real innovation is required to achieve the best possible advances for all. Managing these conflicts is all part of planning for the future in a rapidly shifting marketplace.
For example, Daikin Applied was the first in the market to launch a new generation of high efficiency air-cooled scroll chillers using R32 refrigerant to enhance future installation solutions focusing on both of these key areas. The new range (EWAT-B) is available for cooling-only and heat recovery applications from 80 kW up to 700 kW cooling capacity at nominal conditions.
R32 refrigerant has a GWP of just 675, which makes it more in line with the F-gas refrigerant phase down targets compared with 410a and it is, therefore, facing less price pressure – a major consideration for contractors.
Its improved efficiency means it exceeds Ecodesign design requirements and the use of microchannel coils in Daikin Applied’s new chiller also reduces the unit refrigerant quantity so the GWP CO2 equivalent is significantly reduced compared with 410a, for example.
The new range boasts an increase of 10% in seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) compared to the previous R410a range. It is an extremely compact design, achieving 280kW from a tidy 2300 x 2300mm footprint up to nearly 700kW with a unit length under six metres.
A full ATEX risk assessment has been carried out across the range. As the unit is air cooled and will be located outside, there are no special considerations for either the chiller or the installation site itself despite its use of what is an A2L classified refrigerant.
Daikin has a long history of continually reducing the environmental impact of cooling, heating and refrigeration products, as well as having a unique expertise that comes from manufacturing both refrigerants and equipment. This position is a result of the company’s corporate philosophy: “Be a Company that Leads in Applying Environmentally Friendly Practices”.
Regarding refrigerant choice, Daikin has expertise in using fluorinated (HFC, HFO) as well as non-fluorinated gases (ammonia, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons), because the company believes in diversity of refrigerant choice to allow the best suited solution to be used in each application.
However, with the air-cooled scroll chiller market being around 30% of the UK market, the EWAT-B range is a key product for us and will be increasingly in demand over the next few years.
Shifting to a lower GWP refrigerant will greatly help with the ongoing F-Gas phase-down programme whilst also offering an improvement in efficiency against Ecodesign requirements. The EWAT-B will offer clients peace of mind for the long-term future of the chiller, whilst providing a reduction in CO2 emissions.
It, therefore, balances cost reduction in terms of installation and ongoing maintenance with increased efficiency and lower GWP refrigerant profile to deliver the optimum solution for clients with small to medium size cooling requirements.
The market is going through a lot of changes and in some product sectors change will happen faster than others. At Daikin Applied, we will continue to adjust our product offering to meet changing market demands in a way that ensures costs are balanced with energy efficiency, CO2 equivalent reductions and installation considerations – and it is that combination, which holds the key to future product developments as well.
Creating the right range of products will help contractors manage their clients’ immediate needs while also future proofing them against the industry’s fast moving and challenging backdrop.