Presently Energy conservation is a hottest topic all over the world and all the companies are working on it by utilizing their optimum resources, knowledge and experience. Every manufacturing company endeavors its best to present their appliances in the market having energy purist so as to compete in the market because Energy conservative appliances are more demanded. Energy conservation is a part of the concept of Eco-sufficiency. Energy conservation reduced the need for energy services and can result in increased environmental quality, national security, personal financial security and higher savings. It is at the top of sustainable energy hierarchy. It also lowers costs by preventing future resource depletion. Energy can be conserved by reducing wastage and losses, improving efficiency through technological upgrades and improved operation and maintenance. Use of energy can also be reduced by using appropriate modern appliances governed on moderate energy techniques. In this way a huge amount can be saved through less maintenance, reduction of manpower and appropriate payback of investment in terms of low electricity consumption. I try to write this blog in the context to give awareness to the users so as to opt the best possible solution by perusing this article. In this regard I have selected the topic about air-conditioning because this includes as major head in the expenses of the company. I try my level best to compare the Chillers Vs Variable Refrigerant Volume system (VRV System).
At the time of designing a HVAC project, it is required to understand the project requirements, type of application, duty conditions and compliance to relevant standards. In order to decide which air conditioning system to be used for any particular project, it becomes essential to evaluate different HVAC technologies & systems that will best suit for that project. In today’s world, the designer has many choices for designing the HVAC system and it could be very confusing to identify a correct system for a given application. In order to understand which particular system is best suited for any application, the designer has to consider various aspects such as life cycle cost analysis, system architecture, space availability, etc. In today’s world, a common confusion is whether to design a system for central plant with chilled water system or to use the Variable Refrigerant Volume System (VRF System). In order to understand the merits and demerits for each system, let us compare Chiller Plant System Vs VRF on different aspects that are generally considered during HVAC designing.
• Technology – Merits & Demerits
• System Life Cycle cost analysis
• System Architecture
Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF)
VRF in refrigeration terminology is termed as Multi Evaporator AC system, a ‘central’ air conditioning system having capacity modulation. VRF system comprises of one or more number of ODUs (out door units), many IDUs (in door units), which are connected with each other through refrigerant piping network. The ODUs are installed either on the rooftop or in the shaft space or anywhere at the convenient place. Refrigerant is circulated through the pipes, to the evaporator units. Inside spaces are cooled with the help of refrigerant that is circulated through evaporator units. Generally an Electronic Expansion Valve is used as an expansion device. Capacity modulation happens through two fundamental techniques – 1) electrical modulation – inverter based & 2) mechanical modulation.
VRV Water Cooled Screw Chillers
1. Different IDU options can be used like Hi-wall unit, cassette unit, concealed unit, ducted type units and so on. This can help in blending the air conditioning system
2. with the appropriate interior design of the space
3. With the current available options, one
can reach up to LEED-Gold rating
4. Operation is very simple, probably as simple as operating a split air conditioning system and hence no separate manpower is required for operating the system
5. Good option for providing air conditioning to apartments / villas, small installations where in the complexity of the system (a major demerit of this system) can be kept
to a minimum
1. The most matured technology with the history of over 6 decades
2. With proper system design and installing multiple chillers, even in case of high diversity, chillers become a good option due to their good efficiency even at part load conditions.
3. Project size is not the constraint at all.
4. Non-hazardous for the occupants, as water is circulated throughout the refrigeration circuit, no chance of hazardous material entering the conditioned space
5. Advantage on efficiency can be multiplied by using Thermal storage; and usage of differential tariff
1. Complex system architecture, large amount of refrigerant piping running around in conditioned space
2. If decided to use for larger capacities, more space required to install many number of ODUs. Access to ODUs is necessity as all the maintenance work required will be mostly on the ODUs.
3. Will not be of much benefit where the cooling load has limited diversity, such as in IT / ITES offices, malls, multiplexes, etc. where in the diversity is limited to some conference rooms and / or cafeterias, etc.
4. Can be hazardous for the occupants, being refrigerant circulated through pipes, susceptible to leakages, with the refrigerant possibility of entering the conditioned space.
5. Highly skilled labour required for installation and commissioning and maintenance, especially to identify and correct leakages
6. Different evaluation standards are referred for performance evaluation.
7. Limitation on CFM delivered inside the space, up to 350CFM / TR, can be a serious limitation from indoor air quality as air circulated can be insufficient Demerits:
1. Availability of water is a must
2. Requires additional space for plant room for chillers, AHU rooms and space for mounting the cooling towers
3. Trained manpower is required for operating the central chiller plant
In order to achieve capacity modulation, VRF system essentially requires lot of electrical & electronic controls. Most of the controls are fitted in the ODUs panel board. Apart from electrical-electronic controls, each outdoor unit consists of refrigeration components like compressor, condenser, fan, refrigeration components & controls, and quite a lot copper piping. Fig-1 & Fig-2 speak all about the complexities. The system also needs communication cable to run all the way through from outdoor boxes till each & every indoor unit to exchange electronic signals between ODUs and each IDU. Having copper piping, electrical cabling, communication cables, makes the refrigeration network bit complex.
On the other hand, water cooled screw chiller system architecture & its functioning is quite simple. It does not require complex electrical – electronic controls, refrigeration network for the system to operate and for the capacity modulation too. Further, circulation of water to the AHUs is also a very simple system and all the designer needs to adhere to is simple piping rules.
We all know simpler the system architecture, better reliable it will be & better from the serviceability standpoint too.
Figure – 1 Figure – 2
VRF – In VRF, refrigerant is circulated throughout the refrigeration circuit. Oil along with the refrigerant leaves the compressor through every compressor discharge, which then is circulated throughout the refrigeration circuits. It is very essential that whatever oil that has left out of compressor, should be returned to a compressor, to facilitate lubrication.
At low part load conditions, velocity of the refrigerant & oil is not adequate enough to bring both (oil & refrigerant) back to the compressor. In order to bring the oil back to the compressors, it becomes most essential to run the entire system at high load, for few minutes, after every certain hours.
Many times because of the application requirements, the liquid line distances are quite long, to the tune of 400 ~ 450+ feet. The longer liquid lines further create more challenges on account of oil recovery. Also, longer the refrigerant lines, less efficient the system would be.
Chillers – All chillers have an in-built oil management system, thereby eliminating any issues of oil recovery.
Refrigerant flood back
VRF – Since there is a large quantity of refrigerant available in the system, during part load conditions when only few compressors (matching to % part load) are in operation, the entire refrigerant mass is handled by those few compressors. In such duty conditions, many a times, system may run into issues if due care is not taken. In that case the compressors see flooding of liquid refrigerant that eventually leads to compressor motor burn out, mechanical breakage of the compressors, etc.
Chillers – Liquid flooding is not an issue at all, as the system is properly designed and only the amount of refrigerant required is circulated, rest stays in the condenser.
For smaller systems, up to 100 ~ 200 TR, with limited ODUs and IDUs, VRF system can be a good solution, as for smaller central plant system, space availability for chillers, AHUs may not be available. Also, for such small systems, the VRF system can remain simple with limited refrigerant piping and without much complexities.
However, when the installation size starts increasing, VRF systems, as seen above, start becoming complex and in such cases, planning the installation for a central plant is always beneficial. The life cycle cost of such a system is not only lower than the VRF system, but it also avoids safety related issues such as leakage of refrigerant in conditioned space, better air circulation, better indoor air quality, etc. Some advantages of VRV are as under:
a. Energy Efficiency
VRV is inverter based technology and load of VRV system can be controlled by remote control which effects of energy efficiency
Chiller is based on old technology whereas VRV system is a latest technology.
c. Operational Cost
Operational cost of Chiller is very high and uncontrollable whereas operational cost of VRV system is almost half than the Chiller. In the evening requirement of some offices/ buildings reduce up to the 50% and thus operational cost of the VRV also reduces accordingly.
d. Maintenance Cost
Maintenance cost of Chiller is very high with comparison to VRV and it also involves high engagement of manpower whereas less manpower is required for VRV
e. Effect of weight on Building Strength
Weight of Chiller is five times more than VRV system (3.84 ton & 20 ton) which is an extra load on the room of the building which effects the strength of the building.
f. Space occupancy
Chiller requires large space to be installed whereas VRV requires small space for its placement and embodiment.
We can run the VRV system accordingly to the requirement from 1% to 100% load.
Service of VRV system is much easier than Chiller.
Chiller is not available during winter season for heating purpose due to gas load shedding/ shortage at a certain pressure whereas VRC system is available throughout the year.
VRV system has more life than the Chiller
Comparison of Estimated Electricity Charges and other Expense of 200 ton capacity
S No Charges Chiller VRV System
1. Electricity Rs. 950,000/- Rs. 547,940/-
2. Gas (SNGPL) Rs. 350,000/- Nil
3. Chemicals Rs. 50,000/- Nil
4. Routine Maintenance Rs. 50,000/- Nil
5. Staff Salary Rs. 40,000/- Rs. 30,000/-
Total Monthly = Rs. 1440,000/- Rs. 577,940/-
Per Year = Rs. 17,280,000/- Rs. 6,935,285/-
Annual running cost saving of VRV system = Rs. 10,344,715/-
The information given in this article is true and complete to the best of my knowledge. All recommendations are made without guarantee on the part of author or the publisher. The author and the publisher disclaim any liability in connection with the use of this information.
About the Author:
Muhammad Ejaz – Author
Author is an Associate Electronics Engineer having experience more than 25 years. Have done Masters, Diploma in Information Technology, Two Post Graduate Diplomas and many diversified qualification on his Credentials. Have attended lot of technical workshops / seminars and passed different courses.
• Comparative study of VRV and Chiller conducted before conducting a project
• Manuals of VRV and Chiller
• Internet sources