When a building is looking for a chiller replacement, a natural gas-fired chiller isn’t always the first pick. At first glance, an electrical chiller is a more attractive option because on the surface it seems more efficient and clean. But, when you dive deeper into the overall cost and amount of released emissions, a natural gas-fired chiller may be a better option for your company.
What is a Chiller System?
Chiller systems are a key component of a strong HVAC system. They are installed in commercial buildings to achieve proper temperature control. A wide variety of commercial facilities including hotels, hospitals, sporting arenas, and manufacturing plants, rely on this component to dehumidify and cool their spaces. A chiller system is essential for the comfort of building occupants, but this comfort doesn’t come without a large cost. Chillers use a lot of energy. According to a study published on ScienceDirect, chillers consume more than 40% of the total energy used in the commercial and industrial buildings for space conditioning. That’s why being mindful when picking what chiller system to install is so important.
Two Types of Chiller Systems
Commercial buildings have one of the two types of chillers: a water-cooled chiller or an air-cooled chiller. Both are refrigeration systems used to cool fluids or dehumidify air in both commercial and industrial facilities.
Water-cooled chillers and air-cooled chillers run very similarly and contain almost the exact same parts. Each product contains an evaporator, condenser, compressor, and an expansion valve. The biggest difference between the two systems is that one uses air to supply the condenser cooling and the other uses water. Both systems can be fueled by electricity or natural gas.
Benefits of a Natural Gas–Fired Chiller
So, what are the benefits of a natural gas-fired chiller? A natural gas-fired chiller:
1. Saves You Money
As mentioned before, a chiller can consume almost half of your energy bill. For institutional buildings, it is found that on average 51% of their total energy is consumed by chiller systems. Regardless of the fuel, the chiller will still use a lot of energy. So what’s the cheapest option to fuel a chiller? Right now, the answer is natural gas.
By running your chiller on natural gas, you are aggressively cutting your energy bill. Chillers need to be run often, which racks up hefty peak demand charges and time-of-use charges from electrical providers. By switching to natural gas, these charges disappear. Yes, your natural gas bill will increase but with today’s low price of gas, your bill will still be less than it would be if you had an electrical chiller.
2. Shrinks Your Carbon Footprint
We know what you are thinking. How does switching from electricity to natural gas actually shrink your carbon footprint? Let’s think about it.
To make electricity, natural gas needs to be burned. Every time natural gas is burned to create electricity, about 50% gets converted to electricity and the rest is lost in the form of heat. Additionally, when electricity transfers through the grid about 10% of the energy is lost. So by the time electricity arrives at an electrical chiller, only about 45% of the energy stored in natural gas was converted into usable electricity. And, an electrical chiller is 90% efficient so even more power is lost.
A natural gas-fired chiller converts 80% of natural gas energy into power. This is much more efficient than an electrical chiller, where less than 45% of the energy from natural gas burned at a power plant ends up as usable power. In other words, a natural gas-fired chiller will only lose 20% of the energy from natural gas whereas an electrical chiller loses over 55%. So a natural gas-fired chiller utilizes natural resources much more efficiently than an electrical chiller.
3. Recovers Waste Heat
Lastly, some of the heat lost while burning natural gas in a natural gas-fired chiller can be recovered into hot water as a by-product. During the cooling only operation, the chiller produces a controlled source of chilled water leaving the evaporator while dissipating heat through the condenser and ultimately to the environment. When there is a simultaneous need for chilled water and hot water, these chillers have the capability to operate in heat recovery mode. The recovered heat can be redirected for various heating applications, which saves energy while maintaining conditions.
At EnergyLink, we are committed to helping our clients find energy-saving solutions during this time. For more information on how to cut costs and how to finance an energy system upgrade, contact us! Or for more information on our HVAC solutions click here.