Air cooled chillers offer many advantages to owners and designers. The first, and perhaps most compelling for many jobs is lower installed cost. Lower installed costs (compared to water cooled chillers) are driven by the following advantages:
- No Cooling Tower, Tower pumps, Tower and Pump Starters
- No equipment room required for the chillers
- Mounted starters
They also are easier to maintain, since the systems are significantly simpler than water-cooled systems:
- No on site Systems Engineer required
- No water treatment or make up water required
- No leaks on the roof
- No cooling tower, condenser pumps, associated starters
Generally, however, these advantages have come with significant trade-offs: Efficiency and Sound performance.
However, the introduction of Variable Speed oil-free air-cooled chillers by Smardt changes the balance.
First off, the Smardt Chiller is efficient. With IPLV's as low as 0.65 kw/ton, these chillers rival water-cooled system when the parasitic loads of the condenser pumps and cooling tower are considered. These chillers gain their efficiencies both from the inherent efficiency of the Turbocor compressor and the elimination of oil return issues that prevent other air-cooled chillers from capitalizing on the reduced head pressures available at low ambients.
This means these chillers use about 60-65% energy of other air-cooled chillers for the same load, and can nearly eliminate the energy benefit typically provided by moving to water-cooled systems. When you consider the cost of water (nearly $15/1000 gallons in Seattle, including sewer charges) this means the yearly cost of operation of these units is unrivaled. And energy conservation rebates are extremely attractive for these chillers.
The other major traditional trade off with using air-cooled equipment is sound. Screw chillers especially are known for their unfavorable sound characteristics. In most municipalities, sound ordinances are driven by occupancy and time of day. The most stringent criteria must be met during evening hours, typically when the units are not at their peak load. However, with constant-speed systems, the compressor is either on or off. This means it is either putting out its full sound or none at all. At full speed, such compressors can often exceed the evening sound criteria--even if they are on only momentarily. And the staging between on and off can be objectionable in its own right, regardless of sound level.
The Smardt chiller minimizes the problems with compressor sound in two ways. First, the variable speed drive allows the compressor to ramp slowly up and down to match the required output, eliminating the objectionable switching between compressors that constant-speed chillers exhibit. And secondly, they are just extremely quiet to begin with. Since no moving mechanical part is in contact with the chiller casing, very little mechanical noise is transmitted. Ninety-ton Turbocor compressors have been tested at 72 dBa at one meter, compared to screw compressors that can be as high as 80 dBa or higher in the same test. Five of these compressors operating together yield a sound level of 75 dBa at 10’.
But efficiency and sound are not the only benefits from using the Turbocor technology on air-cooled chillers. Other, less obvious ones exist.
Turbocor compressors have only one moving part, yielding un-matched reliability.
Reliability is enhanced by the elimination of oil in the refrigerant system. And the frictionless bearing requires almost no maintenance.
Since Turbocor compressors are variable speed driven, they provide an inherent soft-start on the compressor. Instead of kicking the motor up to full speed when power is applied to the system, the VSD slowly ramps the compressor up to the required speed for the load sensed by the system. This reduces stress on the already greatly simplified system to reduce wear and tear on the components.
But this soft start has another, very important advantage over standard air-cooled chiler systems--the use of the VSD eliminates inrush amperage. When an electrical motor is at rest, there is very little inductive resistance to current flow through the windings. As the motor starts to turn, this inductive resistance increases with the increase in RPM. What this means is when power is applied across the line (or even with a reduced voltage starter) to a stopped motor, there is a spike of electrical current far greater in amplitude than the design amp draw of the motor:
(example graph of inrush on a well pump motor)
This temporary increased amp draw heats the motor beyond where it is designed to operate for extended periods. This forces the chiller designer to provided anti-recycle timers to prevent rapid re-starts that could fatally overheat the motor. In practice, this usually means constant speed compressors cannot be started more often than every half-hour or so.
Additionally, this increased amp draw has effects that need to be addressed electrically. This becomes even more significant if the chillers are being served by emergency power. The emergency generators that serve the chiller must be sized to handle the inrush amperage. This can be a very costly addition, especially since the added amperage is only required for the first 30 second of operation or so.
Generators = $$$
Turbocor compressors on the Smardt air-cooled chillers eliminate inrush and provides a soft-start. This both heightens reliability and reduces electrical costs. For jobs where reliability is a primary concern, like data centers, this technology makes a lot of sense. First, it eliminates the need for increased generator sizing, it is an inherently more reliable compressor, and it frees the cooling system from reliance on a water utility service that could be disrupted.