Especially since, in Seattle, water is expensive. As of this posting, the water utility rate per thousand gallons is $4.48 (summer) and the Sewer costs tack on an additional $9.96. When you consider that a cooling tower consumes a minimum of 1.8gph/ton (evaporation required to reject that heat), you can see that over a 1900 hour cooling season, these costs can really add up for a reasonably-sized cooling tower.
Earlier, I posted an article that highlighted ways to reduce water use in traditional cooling tower systems. For the most part, these recommendations address keeping the actual water use as close to the theoretical 1.8gph/ton evaporation figure as possible. Reducing the water use any further requires reducing the load on the tower, since evaporation is the only way a cooling tower can reject heat.
There are two ways to reduce load on a cooling tower--Reducing the total building load, or rejecting heat through some other method other than the cooling tower. Assuming the first option has already been exhausted through good engineering practices, the only other option is the second.
This is the approach taken by Aaon in their evaporative condenser systems. They essentially use a dry finned coil as the first stage of cooling before the refrigerant is cooled by evaporative methods. This essentially allows the system to reject as much heat as possible through a non-evaporative method before water is used. Every btuh that is rejected in this manner means less water used in the system.
This idea could be borrowed and applied to an open cooling tower by the use of a dry-cooler as a pre-cooler before a cooling tower. This way, the system rejects as much heat as possible in a dry fashion, and only uses water for what the dry-cooler can't do. This system gets to take advantage of the strengths of both methods of heat rejection--the water conserving function of a dry-cooler, and the lower water temperatures and more efficient heat rejection provided by a cooling tower.
Evapco has capitalized on this approach by creating a new, water-saving fluid cooler called the WDW:
This unit is a hybrid between a dry-cooler and an evaporative fluid cooler. It is provided with a control panel that controls both wet and dry sides of the unit, varying fan speeds with a VFD and determining when to run the evaporative pumps to optimize both water efficiency and fan energy.
Cutaway of an Evapco WDW unit
In practice, the evaporative system is only used for a small portion of the year, only when the design condenser water temperatures cannot be met by the dry-cooler side alone. What you see is a major reduction in water use compared to the same system served by a fully evaporative system:
Other advantages of this approach besides reduced water use are reduced chance of tower plume (since there are far fewer hours in which water is being evaporated, and when this does occur, it occurs in warmer temperatures) and the ability to provide some cooling even if city water is lost due to a service disruption.
But since a dry-cooler uses more fan energy per ton of cooling than a cooling tower, this system will inevitably use more energy to save water. Does this approach pay off?
An example from a real project might help demonstrate the economies involved. Below are the utility cost calculations from a project utilizing a 240 ton WDW installed in Seattle on a heat pump system with a portion of the load serving a 24/7 cooling application:
Note that even with the reduced water cost (to approximate the effective cost of using a deduct meter to avoid being charged wastewater charges for evaporated water) the hybrid system saves about 18% of the annual operational utility costs compared to a fully evaporative system. This affords a relatively quick payback for the added equipment costs associated with the hybrid system.