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PERFORMANCE OF ROOF TOP CHILLERS IN A RESTRICTED ENVIRONMENT

Mike Whalley and Catherine Simpson Building Simulation Ltd

Summary

This case study considers the performance of a group of chillers located on the rooftop of

a high rise building in a busy city centre and examines the problems arising when

positioning plant in a restricted environment. While it may seem obvious that re- circulation of discharge air will occur when the chillers are positioned too close together, this study has shown that spacing to manufacturers’ recommended minimum distances may still result in reduced levels of performance. The use of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) has demonstrated that other ‘site specific’ factors are also influential and shown the effectiveness of computational methods in defining a problem and formulating a solution.

Introduction

It is a common belief that if rooftop chiller plant is spaced according to manufacturers’ recommendations, that optimum performance will be obtained. However, analysis has shown that there are more factors to be considered such as the discharge from adjacent plant and the effect of surrounding buildings on air movement and distribution.

A large office building in a city centre was experiencing problems due to over heating and

the building management team had identified the cause as being the poor performance

of the roof mounted chiller units. The landlord who owned the building had a lease with

one of the tenants that stipulated that the landlord would pay the tenant £50,000 for every minute that cooling was unavailable.

The building management team had observed that air temperature on the roof was generally warmer than local ambient temperature and ‘hot spots’ occurred. To gain further knowledge of events, thermometers were placed around the chillers and temperatures recorded in the Building Management System.

The temperature readings confirmed that air temperature between the units was higher than in other locations, supporting the view that discharge air from the condensers was

creating ‘false ambient’ conditions.

the performance of the chiller and necessitate load shedding in order to avoid shutting

down.

These temperatures were high enough to degrade

As a preliminary measure it was suggested that bridging the gap between the chillers

with temporary boarding could prevent any re-circulation of discharge air and this was put

in

place by the management team. This met with some success, but also had the effect

of

shifting the hot spots and did not completely alleviate the problem.

It was at this point that the management team decided that further investigation was needed to gain a better understanding of the problem and develop a solution. Computation Fluid Dynamics (CFD) was deemed to be the best method.

The Chiller Group

The building is a city centre tower block with four chillers at roof level. To the north and south there are two brickwork structures, with the eastern and western exposures unobstructed. In close proximity to the chiller units are the intake and exhaust louvres of an air conditioning system and below two of the units there is a large pit, the former location of a cooling tower. Within the pit there are three small exhaust louvres, one from a toilet block, one from a plant room and one from an unknown source that was believed redundant. The layout of the chiller group is shown in Figures 1 to 3.

ROOF EDGE CHILLER CHILLER A A View Figure 3 BRICKWORK C STRUCTURE H I CHILLER
ROOF EDGE
CHILLER CHILLER A A
View Figure 3
BRICKWORK
C
STRUCTURE
H
I
CHILLER CHILLER B B
L
BRICKWORK
L
STRUCTURE
E
R
View Figure 2
CHILLER C
D
LINE OF PROPOSED BOARDING SHOWN DOTTED
AC INTAKE AND DISCHARGE
N

Figure 1. The rooftop chiller layout among adjacent buildings and plant terminals. The shaded area is the pit below Chillers A and B

terminals. The shaded area is the pit below Chillers A and B Figure 2. Chiller C

Figure 2. Chiller C with Chiller B to the right. Chiller D can be seen in the background, with one of the brickwork structures to the south.

To provide a temporary solution the management team fixed plywood boards between chillers A and B that prevented warm discharge air being drawn down between the chillers. Figure 3 is a photograph showing these boards.

the chillers. Figure 3 is a photograph showing these boards. Figure 3. Chillers A and B

Figure 3. Chillers A and B with a plywood board fixed between them to prevent the re-circulation of discharge air.

The management team observed that the effect of fixing the plywood boards was to reduce the temperature between chillers A and B, but to increase the temperature on the eastern side of Chiller B.

The CFD Simulation

The initial CFD investigation was carried out with the following objectives:

Confirm suspicions that re-circulation of chiller discharge was the cause of the problem.

Pinpoint the cause of the problem and identify any further problems.

Aid the development of a solution.

The first two models were used to validate the simulation results against the on-site knowledge of the management team. The first model simulated the original situation and the second simulated the temporary solution as shown in Figure 3, but with the board arrangement extended as shown in Figure 1. For each case a calm day and south west wind scenario were considered.

In order to build the models it was necessary to fix any boundary conditions and to make decisions on the level of detail to be included. The ambient air temperature was fixed at 30ºC for both cases, representing the highest temperature likely to be experienced and the south west was identified as the prevailing wind direction in summer. A wind speed of 3 m/s is not uncommon and is sufficient to demonstrate the effect of wind on buoyancy driven air movement.

It is beneficial to exclude unnecessary detail from CFD simulations, as this reduces the amount of initial survey work and the effort required to build the computer model. It also reduces simulation time which enables quicker feedback when there are many options to be considered. The level of detail to include in the model is governed by experienced engineering judgement and computer modelling skills and included the following:

i) An accurate plan of the roof and chiller layout. This was obtained from installation drawings provided by the client from which dimensions were scaled.

ii) Performance data and overall dimensions for each chiller. There were two different types of chiller in the group, with the information in Table 1 below being obtained from operation and maintenance manuals and the manufacturers.

Chiller

Length

Width

Height

Volume Flow

T Across

(m)

(m)

(m)

(m³/s)

Condenser (ºC)

A, B

9.10

2.22

2.29

51.0

12

C, D

7.33

2.06

2.55

45.6

10

Table 1. Chiller data. The volume flow rates given are for each individual chiller.

iii) Knowledge of the flow rates, temperatures and location of any intakes or discharges local to the chillers. Photographs taken during the initial site visit identified the general location of any ventilation louvres and the building management team provided operational data. This is summarised in Table 2 below.

System

Total Intake

Total Discharge

Temperature

Location

(m³/s)

(m³)

(ºC)

AC Intake

5.6

Ambient

Roof

AC Discharge

5.6

24

Roof

Toilet Extract

1.5

24

Pit below A, B

Plant Room

       

Extract

0.3

26

Pit below A, B

Table 2. Additional mechanical airflow included in the CFD model.

iv) Scene geometry. The scene geometry included the two large brickwork structures, the louvred penthouse containing the air conditioning terminals, the pit below chillers A and B and the four chillers. Fine detail of the geometry such as chiller supports and building façade finishes were not modelled.

Radiative exchange was not included in the modelling. This would have required knowledge of surface temperatures that would have to be measured if an acceptable level of accuracy was to be achieved. However, it was considered unlikely that the inclusion of radiation modelling would have had a significant effect on the results and it would have been computationally expensive.

The Chiller Model

The CFD simulation does not model the condenser unit explicitly, but rather sees it as a ‘black box’, which has the same effect as the real condenser. The chiller is represented

by a box through which there is a fixed air flow and a predetermined heat gain leading to

a temperature rise in the discharge air. The sides and base of each chiller unit were

treated as natural inlets, through which the induced volume flow rate is measured. This allowed for the increased air flow resistance between the chiller units to be taken into account compared to inlets located in open space. For the purpose of this analysis each side was divided into three sections in order to increase the resolution of the results, as indicated in Figure 4.

South West West North West South East East North East
South West
West
North West
South East
East
North East

Figure 4. Each chiller was divided into 6 sections plus the base.

When the air is discharged from each chiller it is seeded with a ‘virtual’ dye, making it possible to trace the distribution of the discharge air from individual units when examining the results.

The CFD chiller units were first built and simulated in isolation to check that they were operating correctly in terms of their air flow rates and temperature rise across the coils. They were then positioned on the rooftop and the model ‘gridded’ by dividing the volume

of the model into several hundred thousand finite volumes for calculation purposes. The

model was then run and monitored for a converged solution.

The second model was formed by introducing a series of boards like those shown in Figure 3, which together with the two wind profiles made a total of four cases.

Results

The results were presented both visually and in tabulated format. The visual plots give an immediate understanding of the overall picture whilst tabulated data were used to quantify the amount and origin of re-circulated air. This proved a useful way of assessing the degree of change in a chillers performance when comparing solution options.

The results were presented to the building management team and compared with their on site experience and recorded data. They were able to confirm that the CFD models provided a realistic representation of the existing situation. The results from the initial simulations are discussed in detail below.

Four cases were considered:

1. Still day conditions with no boards.

2. Still day conditions including boards mounted between the chillers.

3. No boards, but with a prevailing wind of 3 m/s from the south west.

Case 1 – Still day conditions with no boards

Case 1 showed that even under still conditions each chiller would be subjected to some re-circulation of its own discharge air.

Figure 5 shows that the temperature between chillers A and B is 15ºC above ambient in places, due to discharged air being induced down between them. This was in agreement with the initial observations of the building management team, with temperatures of 15ºC above being in close agreement with recorded values.

15ºC above being in close agreement with recorded values. Figure 5. Plume of air at 15ºC

Figure 5. Plume of air at 15ºC above ambient. The brick structure to the north has been hidden for clarity.

An example of the tabulated data in Table 3 shows that 3.3% of the total intake air of Chiller A is re-circulation of its own discharge, mainly drawn through the eastern side.

CHILLER A

Air Temp

Mass Flow

Re-circulated Air (%) and Source

Section

Deg C

kg/s

Chiller A

Chiller B

Chiller C

Chiller D

North East Chiller A

34.20

3.12

1.30

0.00

0.00

0.00

East Centre Chiller A

38.17

2.51

1.79

0.84

0.00

0.00

South East Chiller A

30.29

2.14

0.07

0.03

0.00

0.00

North West Chiller A

30.07

7.37

0.06

0.00

0.00

0.00

West Centre Chiller A

30.04

14.32

0.06

0.00

0.00

0.00

South West Chiller A

30.03

7.23

0.02

0.00

0.00

0.00

Base

29.89

24.01

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.00

Total Chiller Intake

30.68

60.69

3.30

0.87

0.00

0.00

Table 3. Tabulated data for Chiller A under still conditions with no boards. The temperatures given are average temperatures of the air drawn through each section.

Case 2 – Still day conditions with boards.

Case 2 showed that the placement of the boards proved to be effective in blocking the passage of re-circulated air between the chillers but also reduced air flow to some sections. There was some shifting of the hot spots noticeably from the west to the east side of Chiller B and to the south side of Chiller D. Chiller B drew more air from the east and gained a minor benefit from cooler air discharged by the air conditioning system.

Figure 6 shows the change to the air plume at 15ºC above ambient.

6 shows the change to the air plume at 15ºC above ambient. Figure 6. Plume of

Figure 6. Plume of air at 15 o C above ambient when the boards are in place.

Table 4 shows the percentage of re-circulated air for Chiller A reduced to less than 1%, but note that the mass flow through the eastern side is also reduced.

CHILLER A

Air Temp

Mass Flow

Re-circulated Air (%) and Source

Section

Deg C

kg/s

Chiller A

Chiller B

Chiller C

Chiller D

North East Chiller A

30.08

0.80

0.01

0.00

0.00

0.00

East Centre Chiller A

29.92

1.45

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.00

South East Chiller A

29.96

1.42

0.02

0.00

0.00

0.00

North West Chiller A

30.13

8.06

0.11

0.00

0.00

0.00

West Centre Chiller A

30.11

15.52

0.18

0.00

0.00

0.00

South West Chiller A

30.04

7.68

0.04

0.00

0.00

0.00

Base

29.89

25.76

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.00

Total Chiller Intake

30.06

60.69

0.36

0.00

0.00

0.00

Table 4. Tabulated data for Chiller A under still conditions with boards.

Case 3 – Windy day without boards.

Case 3 introduced wind effect and it was found that the chillers and the buildings on the roof formed an obstruction to air flow causing re-circulation eddies in the wake of the obstructions. Some of the discharge air from the chillers was drawn into these eddies rather than being carried away in the prevailing wind stream.

Figure 7 shows the plume of air at 15ºC above ambient circulating between the chiller group to be larger than the still day case.

the chiller group to be larger than the still day case. Figure 7. Plume of air

Figure 7. Plume of air at or above 15ºC above ambient

Table 5 shows Chiller C draws more on its western side and that a significant amount is re-circulated air.

CHILLER C

Air Temp

Mass Flow

Re-circulated Air (%) and Source

Section

Deg C

kg/s

Chiller A

Chiller B

Chiller C

Chiller D

North East Chiller C

30.62

4.68

0.01

0.08

0.23

0.19

East Centre Chiller C

30.73

9.82

0.04

0.13

0.76

0.39

South East Chiller C

31.04

5.44

0.02

0.06

0.41

0.44

North West Chiller C

49.01

2.86

0.01

3.05

2.59

0.10

West Centre Chiller C

42.04

10.57

0.03

9.06

5.79

0.60

South West Chiller C

31.73

9.84

0.00

0.96

0.03

1.58

Base

30.94

11.13

0.06

0.42

0.16

1.12

Total Chiller Intake

34.20

54.34

0.17

13.76

9.97

4.42

Table 5. Tabulated data for Chiller C with south west wind and no boards.

Case 4 – Windy day with boards.

Case 4 found that the boards provided a partial solution, but not a complete one. The north east end of Chiller B still experienced high temperatures and re-circulation where the boards did not run the full length of the chiller. Since the boards did not span between the chillers and the buildings Chiller D re-circulated a significant amount between its south side and the opposite wall. Figure 8 shows a plume of air from Chiller D which comprises 25% of its own discharge, a significant quantity of which is induced down into the area of low pressure in the lee of the building and re-circulated as cooling air.

in the lee of the building and re-circulated as cooling air. Figure 8. Discharge air from

Figure 8. Discharge air from chiller D induced into the low pressure area adjacent to the building

Table 6 shows that the introduction of the boards reduced the amount of re-circulation and the mass flow rate through the western side of Chiller C.

CHILLER C

Air Temp

Mass Flow

Re-circulated Air (%) and Source

Section

Deg C

kg/s

Chiller A

Chiller B

Chiller C

Chiller D

North East Chiller C

30.64

6.64

0.00

0.02

0.65

0.04

East Centre Chiller C

30.60

12.85

0.01

0.04

1.20

0.28

South East Chiller C

30.57

6.04

0.00

0.04

0.34

0.35

North West Chiller C

34.35

2.79

0.01

0.76

0.93

0.10

West Centre Chiller C

31.29

8.43

0.01

0.79

0.51

0.36

South West Chiller C

30.35

8.89

0.00

0.26

0.03

0.15

Base

30.01

8.59

0.02

0.11

0.08

0.42

Total Chiller Intake

30.78

54.23

0.05

2.02

3.74

1.70

Table 6. Tabulated data for Chiller C with south west wind and boards.

Recommended Spacing

For each chiller the manufacturer gives recommended minimum distances between units and from obstructions. To determine whether correct spacing would have avoided the problem, the chillers in the simulation were re-positioned to give an ideal environment with the southern building also being shifted to allow this. Only windy day conditions with no boards were considered. The results were compared to those from Case 3 and the following was observed:

The environment around Chiller A was generally at ambient temperature with a reduction of re-circulated air from 5% to less than 1% of the total intake.

The ‘false ambient’ on the west side of Chiller B (downwind of Chiller A) was still in the region of 5ºC above ambient.

The ‘false ambient’ on the western side of Chiller C (downwind of Chiller B) was still 10ºC above ambient.

Chiller D was still re-ingesting discharge air on the south side and was not greatly improved by the revised layout. Note that it was already positioned at the manufacturer’s recommended minimum spacing in the original layout.

Conclusions

Simulation of the chiller group accomplished the following:

Confirmation that discharged air from the chillers was re-circulating between the group. Surprisingly, still day conditions were more favourable. It had been believed that windy conditions would carry discharge air clear.

The effect of the wind was to create low pressure eddies in the lee of obstructions into which discharge air was drawn.

The provision of boarding between chillers could be effective in preventing re- circulation but would also restrict the flow of ambient air.

Manufacturers’ recommended spacings only apply to isolated chillers in controlled or still conditions, whilst installed chillers may be affected by factors specific to their individual location and circumstances. In particular chillers located ‘downwind’ of adjacent units are likely to induce discharge air from the ‘upwind’ chiller.

The simulations indicated that fixing boards between the chillers provided a partial answer, but needed to be extended to include the spaces between the chillers and the brickwork buildings. Due to concerns that this would provide too high a resistance for air into the condensers, it was agreed that further alternatives would be simulated. Since writing the case study, more options have been simulated including increased fan power, the addition of ventilation cowls and the removal of the central chiller.

The current solution utilises the proposed boarding arrangement (as simulated) but with the addition of ventilation cowls to the chiller fans. The cowls are 900mm high and improve the performance of the chillers by lifting discharge air to a height clear of the adjacent obstructions.

It must be remembered that the boundary conditions were fixed, in particular wind speed and direction. The interpretation of the results needs to be made in a broad context and it is the principles established by the results which carry the most importance, not the ‘absolute’ figures generated by one scenario.