Meet the speakers: Q&A with Stephen R. Yurek

Stephen R Yurek
Speaker: Steve Yurek
(Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute)
Stephen R. Yurek is CEO and President of AHRI. Mr. Yurek joined AHRI in 2002 as Vice President of Policy and Public Affairs and General Counsel.

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Q: The expectation among industry is that chillers and large air conditioners are set for dramatic technological changes. Do you think this sentiment is accurate and if so, what are the changes you expect to see?

A: The HVACR industry is in a period of significant change in refrigerants, technology, and product design. Changes are definitely underway in chiller technology with the use of variable frequency drives (VFD), oil-free compressors, sophisticated controls, variable volume ratio technology and the increased efficiency of condenser fans all contributing to this phenomenon. 

The ability of some of today’s chillers to use heat recovery for space- and water-heating adds to their attractiveness. The cost of variable frequency drives has fallen while their reliability has improved, making them a more viable option for the air-and water-cooled screw chiller market instead of them being primarily used only in centrifugal chillers.

These newer technologies improve efficiency by eliminating the mechanical slide valve for capacity control and provide for reduced sound levels at part-load operation. In addition, VFDs can improve part-load efficiency when added to the condenser fans in air-cooled chillers.

Because of increases in performance, there are places in the world where air-cooled chillers are actually cheaper to install and maintain than water-cooled, particularly in places where water is expensive. 

Q: What is driving these technological changes? How will these forces influence the design of products to come?

A: There are always two main factors driving change: One is energy efficiency and the other is cost. The technological changes we are seeing in the chiller market are driven by both those factors, especially as countries, states, provinces, and regions around the world put an increasing premium on energy efficiency and reduced environmental impact. 

A third factor that sometimes drive design changes are regulatory requirements. However, changes that occur because of regulatory requirements often miss the mark in their intended purposes. As an industry, we would prefer to see changes driven by market demand and innovation.

Finally, climate change is also a significant driver in technological changes. As stewards of the environment, the industry is always looking at innovations that could reduce the carbon footprint of its products.

Q: With change comes risk. What do building owners, facility managers and service companies need to consider when making investment decisions for the future?

A: The changes in the chiller market, in addition to increased energy efficiency, can also benefit facility managers with decreased installation and maintenance costs as well as higher energy efficiency.

They will need to stay abreast of changes in the refrigerant market because of the drive to phase down higher GWP refrigerants.

In addition, technological changes bring complexity to the decision-making matrix. Building owners and specifiers must make informed decisions on investments. AHRI, through its 40 plus performance certification programs, provides indispensable data that can be used to make informed decisions.

Q: Although the market for this equipment is global, are there any issues in Australia that will have an influence on what is sold here, or how it is used and maintained? 

A: All of the new technologies mentioned will benefit the Australian building stock and the nation as a whole, as climate-friendly refrigerants are phased in with higher-efficiency chillers.

What is important for Australia is that careful analysis is conducted of the different testing standards and certification schemes that are being considered for acceptance in Australia’s chiller MEPS (Minimum Energy Performance Standards) that is currently under review.

A blanket acceptance of all standards and certification schemes would effectively negate the gains from technological innovations and result in a market that is more price driven rather than innovation and efficiency driven.

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