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Home / Chillers / Energy Efficiency / Chiller selection considerations and specification – how to get it right

Updated: June 28, 2018

Chiller selection considerations and specification – how to get it right

Chiller selection requires a great deal of technical knowledge as refrigeration technology has changed considerably in the last 20 years. If you’re considering replacing a chiller which has come to the end of its lifespan, looking to upgrade to a more efficient chiller or designing a new system, its imperative that your project specification is well informed through reliable technical advice.

If your chiller is required for manufacturing process cooling, it’s even more important as an incorrect specification could affect the quality of your product, your environmental obligations and the operation and maintenance costs significantly.

Energy efficiency regulations – the EcoDesign Directive

The EU has set itself a 20% energy savings target by 2020 with an update to the Energy Efficiency Directive to reduce energy consumption by 30% for 2030.

Heating and cooling in buildings accounts for 50% of energy consumption in the EU, which led to the development of the Energy Related Products Directive in 2005.[1] From 1st January 2018, as part of the latest phase of amendments to the European Commission’s EcoDesign Directive, industrial cooling and refrigeration equipment is required to meet new, stringent minimum levels of energy efficiency.

 The EcoDesign Directive legislation affects two product groups known as ‘Lots’:

Lot 1: Covers refrigeration and freezing equipment, including medium and low-temperature process chillers and condensing units.

Lot 21: Includes high-temperature process chillers & condensing units and comfort chillers.

One of the key differences between the two is that cooling demands can significantly vary between chillers used for process and comfort applications. Process loads are typically more intense and occur during production, whereas comfort loads are seasonal, with the chiller only likely to be in operation when ambient air temperatures are high enough to require it.

New industrial cooling equipment must meet new minimum energy performance standards (MEPS). Process chillers must meet Seasonal Energy Performance Ratio (SEPR) metrics and comfort chillers must meet new Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) values.

SEER places a greater emphasis on partial load performance at higher operating ambient temperatures; while SEPR places less emphasis on partial load performance, focusing on a wider operating ambient temperature range.

These new MEPS which came into effect in January 2018 are set to become even more stringent in January 2021, so its worth checking that any cooling equipment supplier you speak to is prepared for this.

Read our guide to the EcoDesign 2018 legislation here for more information.

The benefit of the legislation to the end-user is the energy savings that modern chillers provide, thanks to the new and improved components which are now used in their assembly.

New technology

Manufacturers of chillers and their components are continuously developing their products to meet the energy efficiency legislation and targets. This has led to the development of new condenser coils, inverter-controlled compressors, evaporator designs, refrigerant controls and controller software.

The design of chillers, especially air-cooled units has changed significantly to meet current regulations. One of the biggest impacts with complying with the regulation is the physical size of modern units compared to a unit manufactured in the year 2005.


A 400kW chiller manufactured in 2005 had an approximate physical footprint of 8.8m2, whereas, a standard efficiency unit today could have an approximate physical footprint of 13.2m2. The greater the energy efficiency of the modern unit, compared to the incumbent unit, the larger the footprint generally becomes. However, with the correct approach from an applications engineer, this problem can be greatly reduced by applying the correct technologies.

Cooling load requirement

Has the building load or cooling load requirement changed since initial system design and installation?

Modern computers generally generate far less heat load and can also operate at higher temperatures than those in use 15 years ago. Occupancy levels could have also changed.

If you’re a manufacturer requiring process cooling, have you re-assessed your cooling load requirements?

These factors will impact the size of unit required to ensure you have enough duty to keep your facilities consistently cool or enable you to manufacture at a more economical rate.

HFC phase down

The EU is cutting the availability of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by 79% between 2015 and 2030.

As part of this process, HFCs (particularly those with high global warming potentials) are becoming increasingly expensive. Around June 2017, the cost of HFC refrigerants like R404A rose sharply and later in the year, R410A and R134a.

The price of R404A today, for example, is more than 10 times what it was in January 2017 and is continuing to rise at around 30% every month.[2]

When selecting new equipment, it’s important to opt for low GWP refrigerants to avoid high costs and future-proof your refrigerant systems.

Ultra-low GWP refrigerants such as ammonia, CO2 or the recently introduced HFOs such as R-1234ze will provide many advantages such as:

  • A Low GWP <1
  • Very short atmospheric life of just a few days
  • Lower energy consumption than R290 and most natural HFC refrigerants
  • Lower capacity than R134a
  • Best energy usage EER/ESEER
  • A2L (slightly flammable)
  • Heating possible to 850C (reverse cycle)

Not as environmentally-friendly, but a close match to R134a is R531A. R531A is not as environmentally friendly as R-1234ze, but provides a cost effective and close replacement to R134a, offering:

  • GWP 572
  • A1 non-flammable HFO/HFC blend
  • <1% difference in Seasonal Efficiency
  • Low atmospheric life

Market expectations and commercial pressures

In the past, one of the key market pressures when selecting a new chiller was footprint, today however, its energy efficiency.

Undertaking an energy analysis audit of your existing refrigeration equipment and comparing the consumption to a new unit with the latest technology will help you understand how much energy you could be saving. As well as reducing your energy costs, you could benefit from reduced maintenance costs and improved operation with the installation of new equipment.

When it comes to equipment specification, it’s worth noting that a lot of components which were once considered as standard, are now optional and can often be overlooked – impacting the unit performance and life expectancy. Make sure you check this on any proposal you receive to ensure you fully benefit from new cooling equipment.


The above is a very brief overview of some of the changes that have happened over recent years. By consulting with an ICS Cool Energy Applications engineer, you can rest assured that your chiller specification will be energy efficient, commercially effective and as futureproof as possible. We can also provide training sessions on a broad range of topics to ensure you or your teams can specify with confidence.

Call us on 0800 774 7426 for more information or technical advice.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/energy/sites/ener/files/documents/list_of_ecodesign_measures.pdf

[2] http://www.refcom.org.uk/media/1275/price-rises-june-2018.pdf


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