Trends in the UK market for air-conditioning

BSRIA
Trend to greater energy efficiency — David Garwood.

As the UK air-conditioning market slowly recovers lost ground, it is seeing significant changes — as David Garwood of BSRIA explains.

The UK air-conditioning market is continuing to slowly recover lost ground since the last recession. Sales of standard splits are being driven by the need to replace R22 equipment and by refurbishment jobs. This trend is reflected throughout other product markets and is holding up market sizes. Total sales of single splits amounted to £149 million with a corresponding volume of 149 461 units in 2011. The VRF market is continuing to regain lost share, reaching £137 million (15 600 units), benefiting from being suitable for major refurbishment jobs.

Standard split sales are likely to remain stagnant in 2012 and continue to be driven by the need to replace less-efficient equipment.

Given the current economic climate it is unlikely that there will be any significant changes to the market size of splits. Low recovery in single digits is the most likely outcome.

Total sales of all chillers reached 2966 units in 2011, up from 2896 in 2010. The chiller market is following trends in other Northern European countries and is being driven by major refurbishment work.

Despite a fall back, the UK market for chillers using Turbocor compressors is the largest in Europe. Two such chillers installed by Cool-Therm for a process application at Photronics in Bridgend to replace R22 chillers have halved energy consumption and expected to give a payback of less than two years.

In 2010 there was a fight between Turbocor centrifugal, multiple scroll and screw. The winning product in 2011 and into 2012 is multiple scroll. Companies have reduced their capital costs of chillers with multiple scroll and screw compressors to compete with chillers using Turbocor compressors, which have a higher capital cost in a market where price is more important than ever in driving a project. The growth in Turbocor has slowed down, but the UK is still the largest Turbocor market in Europe. Sales are estimated to have reached 196 units in 2011 and represent close to a fifth of the total chiller market value. Sales are still strong in 2012, though growing at a much slower rate.

Companies are expanding their range by capacity of scroll up to 750 kW to compete against screw in the mid-range and against other competitors such as Carrier which had already released such models.

Another important development is that UK manufacturer Airedale is about to release a 1 MW scroll chiller with a triple refrigerant circuit. Each circuit will have three compressors. This brand has significantly increased its turnover in the scroll market in 2011 over 2010. Aermec also has a 1 MW scroll chiller in its range.

Such developments have led to the screw market losing share to the scroll market at the lower end. It is not just the trend in price which is driving sales of multiple scroll over screw and Turbocor. The scroll compressor is preferred as it tends to be quieter than screw and often has a lower footprint.

Another trend is companies providing chillers with compressors having a choice of inverter control or fixed speed, like VRF suppliers provide in the VRF outdoor unit.

Suppliers of screw compressors are starting to fight back with more developments of invertor screw products.

Other trends in the chiller market include the following.

• Chillers that can provide simultaneous heating and cooling (polivalenti).

• Trends towards higher water temperatures

• Increase in the number of free-cooling chillers sold.

Polivalenti chillers that can simultaneously provide cooling and heating are now being made by some Italian manufacturers. This example is Climaveneta’s Integra chiller, which is available with cooling capacities from 36 to over 900 kW. Energy savings of around 40% are claimed compared with a combination of boiler and chiller, which one Integra chiller can replace.

Polivalenti chillers are being manufactured by some Italian chiller suppliers, including Aermec and Climaveneta. They can provide simultaneous heating and cooling and independently by use of a special refrigerant circuit and control.

This makes it possible to have single unit for heating, domestic hot water and cooling, whereas previously at least two units had to be installed. These units are normally scroll chillers with a cooling range of up to 500 kW, but they are also available with the screw compressor.

The increasing trends towards greater energy efficiency has led to the trend of higher water temperatures. This has in turn led to more free-cooling chillers being specified as the higher water temperatures make it easier to use free cooling when the ambient temperature is low.

The demand for free-cooling chillers was originally kicked off for installations in data centres and some industrial applications. However, the trend in higher water temperatures has led to demand for free-cooling chillers in large office blocks.

Companies are now reporting that over 40% of chillers come with the free cooling option.

Recent years have seen the rapid growth of sales of small air-handling units, which tend to be ceiling-void units. Sales have been driven by the need to ventilate smaller commercial and other non-residential premises in line with tighter Building Regulations for new-build and major refurbished buildings. Airtight buildings have led to the need for these smaller AHUs, including installations in school classrooms.

Though work in the education sector has slowed down considerably, there is still plenty of demand for small AHUs in other sectors. This fact is leading to traditional bespoke and customised AHU providers to enter this market, including McQuay.

Interestingly, traditional small AHU providers such as Nuaire and Vent Axia have seen business opportunities for customised units and have entered this market as well.

In 2011 and into 2012, players in the market place witnessed more demand for larger customised units with air flows from 5000 to 30 000 m3/h. Demand for smaller standard units is still strong

The overall outlook for AHUs is positive, as demand is being pushed by tighter Building Regulations

Fan-coil units with EC fan motors are becoming the norm. Advanced Air’s EPIC fan-coil unit, for example, can achieve a specific fan power of 0.15 W/l/s.

The fan-coil market continued to decline in 2011 over 2010. Demand is steady in 2012. Sales are orientated towards replacement and also refurbishment, as the new-build sector is very much in the doldrums. The fan coil-market is holding up better than its main competitor — active chilled beams.

The UK air-conditioning market is seen as requiring highly engineered products, with commodity standardised products representing only a third of the market. This represents a barrier to entry for many Asian and some European brands. The market suppliers report that EC fan motors are becoming the norm, with some suppliers reporting 80% of their sales being with EC fan motors. Nearly all big projects are for EC motors.

Suppliers are constantly looking for greater improvements in energy efficiency. One way to do this is through using VAV fan coils, which all the big players now have in their portfolio.

David Garwood is a market-research consultant with BSRIA.

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