x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Abu Dhabi scientists look to make cooling equipment more efficient

Research projects are looking for ways to gauge effectiveness of energy efficiency.

Experts say old air conditioning units, such as the ones in a building in the Tourist Club area of Abu Dhabi, are a huge drain on electricity supplies.
Experts say old air conditioning units, such as the ones in a building in the Tourist Club area of Abu Dhabi, are a huge drain on electricity supplies.

Inefficient air conditioners are a huge drain on electricity supplies - but now scientists in Abu Dhabi hope to make them less so.

Six new research projects at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology are intended to find ways of making cooling equipment more efficient, and to measure the impact of energy efficiency measures.

Leading the research are Dr Afshin Afshari, professor of practice in engineering systems and management, and Dr Peter Armstrong, an associate professor of mechanical engineering.

Two of the projects will examine AC systems' chiller equipment and air-handling units, with the aim of developing GCC efficiency standards.

Cooling uses about 40 per cent of the UAE's electricity, said Dr Armstrong - but the area is often overlooked, and most commercial AC products are not optimised for the harsh climate. "The actual cooling equipment routinely used in the UAE is often selected more on first cost than on life cycle cost or performance," he said.

Maintenance is important, too, and so another project will look into "predictive maintenance" - monitoring equipment remotely and detecting problems before they cause huge disruptions. "There are huge maintenance issues with chiller equipment in Abu Dhabi," said Dr Afshari. "They are not maintained as they should be and one of the reasons for that is that people wait until the equipment fails ... before they go and do maintenance."

The scientists are also developing tools to gauge the effectiveness of energy efficiency measures.

Dr Armstrong is working on an electricity meter that can see not only how much energy is being used within a flat or office, but also what type of equipment is using it.

Such end-use metering is not new, but current devices use technology almost 30 years old. Dr Armstrong and his team hope to make an updated device. "If you know how much energy the building is using, you can break it down to kilowatt hours per square foot per year, perhaps, but you do not know what it is actually being used for," he said.

"Until you know what it has been used for, you really do not have much to go on as to what activities you should fund, and what technologies need to be improved."

The need to know more before deciding to act is also the rationale behind two assessment tools to be developed by Dr Afshari.

One model looks to assess the effectiveness of energy efficiency measures. That is not as easy as comparing a building's energy use before and after an intervention, as other factors - such as weather and occupancy rates - can affect the results.

An accurate and standardised assessment method would help Abu Dhabi develop a new industry around energy efficiency.

Dr Afshari is also working on a model that will let decision makers predict how much effect efficiency measures such as improving chiller efficiency and building insulation will have.

It combines hourly electricity consumption data with weather data to investigate the relationship between climate and cooling needs. It will allow for five or six parameters to be compared, calculating which approach will produce the largest results and how much it will cost to implement.

All six projects should be finished in two years. And ultimately, they should cut energy demand. "This means less power plants, less transmission assets and less distribution assets," said Dr Afshari.

vtodorova@thenational.ae