Lack of uniform modeling solutions hinders natural refrigeration adoption

By Leigha Joyal
Energy Analyst, Hillphoenix

Last month, I wrote about the lack of effective performance baselines for natural refrigeration systems and how that makes it difficult for utilities to provide natural refrigeration incentives. In this article, we’ll talk about the second challenge faced by end users and utilities: the lack of good modeling software for natural refrigeration systems.

When seeking incentives from utilities for natural refrigeration, modeling new system performance is key to calculating anticipated savings. “Modeling” entails determining what the energy consumption of a particular technology is, taking all variables into account and using mathematical formulas to ensure that all numbers are accurate. It’s important because it allows end-users to gauge their expected ROI.

Modeling “traditional” commercial refrigeration systems is already a difficult task. Natural refrigeration, with its mechanical eccentricities and lack of exposure among utilities, poses even bigger challenges. Even with the myriad modeling programs available industrywide, there are very few, if any, designed to accommodate the quirks and nuances of natural refrigeration. Every system has a collection of interdependent factors that make modeling complex (e.g., system loads and temperatures, whether there are VFDs, unloaders on compressors, EC fan motors), but natural systems raise the bar.

Utilities need a tried-and-true program, one that more definitively proves that claimed savings will be realized. Furthermore, an independent third party should verify these calculations to ensure accuracy, but who is going to subsidize the cost of verification? The utility, the end user, or the manufacturer? A combination of all, or someone else? This could lead to additional costs to implement a natural refrigerant system, pushing a project well outside its timeframe and potentially eliminating any return on the end users’ investment. Time and funding are in short supply when it comes to providing the same guarantees that exist for traditional refrigeration systems.

We are making slow progress by educating utilities through installations, ongoing projects, and different modeling examples, but the industry needs a better solution. At Hillphoenix, that includes a new modeling software designed to meet the needs of customers making the transition to natural refrigerants. While interest in natural refrigerants is growing exponentially, customers and utilities need a more robust, industry-accepted modeling solution that can be trusted by utilities for calculating energy savings.

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