Air conditioning manufacturers are upping their game when it comes to creating new designs and technologies to cut the environmental impact of their products, says Glyn Jones
Innovation and flexibility are prerequisites for the survival of most businesses these days and nowhere is this truer than for air conditioning manufacturers. The new eco design requirements of the Energy Related Products Directive (ErP) for air conditioning systems up to 12kW will be enforced from January 2013. Under this legislation, seasonal energy efficiency ratings (SEER) must appear on all relevant products and any that no longer make the grade will be banned.
While this part of the ErP doesn't affect larger systems yet, consultation is underway about setting new minimum energy efficiency requirements for them too.
It could be argued that air conditioning manufacturers are being forced to up their game when it comes to creating new technologies and design concepts and reducing the environmental impact of their products.
No arm twisting needed
However, at the risk of sounding peevish, I must point out that successful air conditioning manufacturers don't need arm twisting to meet environmental legislation; we genuinely want to save energy and reduce CO2 and have concern for the environment in our mission statements as a priority.
Developing new, energy efficient products that perform better than competitors' products always involves pushing the boundaries.
More recent innovations in air conditioning systems include:
Compressor rotation, which spreads the duty of equivalent load to each compressor and increases the unit's life expectancy; Fan coil off-coil temperature limitation, which eliminates cold draughts without the need to install expensive isothermal grilles; and Fan coils with variable static and fan speed settings, to produce the right air volume needed to meet required duty and to reduce noise.
Another key innovation is the creation of more flexible equipment, which provides cost-effective solutions when changing requirements need to be addressed. Some splits for the commercial market (with outputs of 7 to 30kW) have this flexibility and can be changed around.
For example, if four fan coils have been installed in an open plan area and then a new tenant arrives who wants to alter the layout with partitions, this could raise a problem. Occupants in each partitioned area will not be able to control their own air conditioning effectively with this traditional quad split system.
However, there are now products available - which are effectively a half-way house between a split and a VRF - that allow a change from master/slave to individual control via a dipswitch setting, saving energy, reducing CO2 and cutting costs.
This kind of flexibility extends further in air conditioning control too. For example, there is now easier integration between different levels of control systems.
Whole building control
Most manufacturers offer interfaces with building management systems (BMS) for whole building control, to make the connectivity between splits, VRFs and chillers seamless. Even better, they are operable from anywhere with an internet connection.
For set-ups without BMS, centralised control can be achieved through a single, intuitive graphical interface on a PC or touch screen controller. Remote monitoring provides great flexibility and is useful for a central location, like an HQ, to monitor the performance of air conditioning equipment in other satellite locations.
A vast array of control and monitoring options is available, including time clock, set point or mode setting or prohibition, cold draught control, energy usage monitoring and system historical data. This type of control provides maximum energy efficiency and also includes load shedding to keep peak demand down.
These are just some of the innovations that air conditioning manufacturers now offer to make life better for the specifier and end user and to make valuable energy savings.
To make it easier to realise the potential of many of these innovations, manufacturers offer product-based training facilities throughout the UK.
// The author is UK product marketing manager at Hitachi Air Conditioning Europe SAS //