As air conditioning becomes more of the UK way of life, Paul Taylor, Panasonic's European technical manager, air conditioning products, explains how this new lifestyle choice has been streamlined
RAPID growth in the UK air conditioning market has brought a daunting choice of machines and functions as manufacturers vie for the attention of specifiers and installers. However, with the increasing maturity of this market, some of the reasons for installing air conditioning are changing. It is no longer regarded as a luxury to be enjoyed only by top management or high-technology departments: instead it is an ingredient for increased productivity in a comfortable working environment. To achieve this, installation designers still want flexibility but they also want a more streamlined choice for small business and residential applications.
From listening to UK specifiers in these sectors, it is clear that they want a practical solution to the problems of worsening air quality - providing healthier air, greater comfort and energy saving efficiency in a compact design. They also want just two solution headings: standard - providing straightforward air conditioning and deluxe - which adds automatic air quality monitoring and electronic air purification. In both cases, a comprehensive range of machine capacities is needed to cover varying space demands.
Computerisation gave the UK industry a major impetus as the big mainframe computers with their tape and disk data storage systems required carefully controlled operating environments. Air conditioning provided a convenient means of managing temperatures, humidity levels and airborne dirt particles. With the evolution of PC networks, the 'computer room' is a thing of the past for most organisations but its legacy is the almost universal view that an air conditioned environment makes a good place to work, too.
Air conditioning is now a lifestyle requirement in offices, shops, hotels, the leisure industry - and increasingly in houses and apartments. To meet this need, specifiers want solutions that cool (or heat) the air quickly, evenly and cost effectively. Energy efficiency and 'green' refrigerant gas are also extremely high on the specifiers' list. They also want machines that are reliable, unobtrusive, and stylish where they are on show. They want solutions for large buildings and small offices; for general control or for 'micro-climates' accommodating individual needs around the building. Specifiers also want solutions that can be installed in new buildings, or retro-fitted to existing structures. What they don't always want is a plethora of added features - especially if they make the solutions complicated to use.
UK air conditioning specifiers also look for a range of solutions for applications but it is at the fast growing lower end of the market, we believe, that the process of choosing the best value package for an application can be made easier. For example, small shops, single offices and homes, still need quiet running solutions in the 2-8kW range, based on energy efficient inverter technology, and environment-friendly R410A refrigerant. However, they may not need more advanced functions, such as air purification.
Where higher standards of air conditioning are required, such as in laboratories, medical suites or domestic environments, deluxe systems are the preferred choice. They bring added features such as air purification with technology that traps dust and other airborne particles electronically and then collects them on an easy-clean filter. Systems like this achieve the same performance as a full scale air purifier based on the Japan Electrical Manufacturers' Association Standard. A single unit providing both air conditioning and purification offers an economical solution.
Air purification systems should operate independently of the air conditioner, to provide 24-hour protection against dust, mould, viruses and bacteria. If the sensor detects airborne dirt or odours, it automatically starts the purification system to remove up to 99.9% of viruses and 100% of bacteria.
Inverter technology matches current waveform closely to the motor voltage waveform, significantly reducing power consumption. The technology flexibly changes compressor operation to suit different situations, enabling systems to reach set cooling or heating temperatures about four times faster than non-inverter models and then to respond to changes in demand, avoiding big temperature swings. Coupled with a modern scroll compressor design, this technology ensures a comfortable temperature is maintained with less energy, vibration and noise.
The indoor units deliver quiet operation and low fan speeds. Pressing the quiet mode button reduces operating noise to just 21dB. For advanced comfort, vertical and horizontal airflows can be adjusted, even by remote control.
Increased use of air conditioners has raised concerns about electricity bills and the need for energy saving but there is also growing demand for higher levels of comfort. Our tests show inverter technology can reduce electricity costs by 50% during cooling and 64% during heating. Maximum power at start up ensures rapid cooling and heating after which the unit matches output power against changes in temperature.