Modular chiller plants: when are they the right choice?

In the current context where energy efficiency is crucial, the choice between conventional and modular chiller plants stands at a crucial crossroads. 

As we’ll see below in the article, the modular chiller system offers numerous advantages in a number of circumstances. 

Such is the case of the industries that are part of the green transition, such as renewable energy production or electric vehicle manufacturing.  As such, modular chillers for battery production factories have been hailed as a crucial solution as the development of electric vehicles continues.

By providing efficient yet flexible and precise cooling, a modular chiller plant can have an impact on reducing the environmental impact of cooling while bringing in cost reductions.

This is partly why the modular chillers market has experienced a noticeable growth, a trend that is expected to continue. For instance, GrandView Research foresees a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.8% from 2023 to 2030 for these systems’ market value, building from a value at USD 2.42 billion in 2022. The consultancy firm considers the increasing awareness regarding sustainability in cooling as a major force driving this growth. On the other hand, Expert Market Research highlights the growing importance of water-cooled modular chillers over air-cooled systems for the foreseeable future.

But what exactly are modular chiller plants and when are they the best choice for cooling projects? Keep reading to find out. 

Nueva llamada a la acción

What are modular chiller plants?

Modular chillers are cooling systems that consist of multiple independent chiller units designed to work efficiently together. As such, the modular chiller plant departs from the conventional model that relies on having a single large chiller unit.

The fact that these chiller units can be arranged in a modular configuration allows for flexibility in design and crucial scalability. This capacity is precisely the main advantage of modular chillers: as cooling demands change or grow, additional modules can be added to the system to increase capacity. Conversely, if cooling requirements decrease, modules can be removed or turned off to save energy.

The result is a versatile and efficient solution for cooling that is an adequate choice for a wide range of applications.

Air-cooled and modular water cooled chillers are available today. There are also other adaptations, including different tonnage options. However, all of them rely on the same basic set of components, including compressors, pumping and control systems. Modular chillers are prewired and many present integrated cooling towers, fans, boilers, and generators.

What are the benefits of modular chillers

1. Increased redundancy

With modular chillers, one module failing doesn’t necessarily mean downtime: when one module fails, the rest of the system can continue operating while losing a small percentage of the overall plant capacity.

2. Precision

Modular chillers can be designed so that only the necessary cooling capacity is deployed at the time and place when they’re needed. While this brings in another additional benefit, one of their key advantages is to provide precise and stable temperature control within a narrow range. 

In fact, their zoning capacities mean that independent temperature control is possible, all with a fast response time.

3. Energy efficiency

The modular chiller system can be optimized for varying loads, which leads to improved efficiency compared to fixed-capacity units.

4. Flexibility

Modular chillers can be adjusted to fit the specific needs of a facility, and scaled with additional modules as needed. Their flexibility also means modular chillers can be adapted for industrial heat pumps, thus bringing in both heating and cooling capacities.

5. Easy maintenance

Thanks to their smaller components, modular chillers are typically easier to maintain and repair.

6. Space efficiency 

While traditional large chiller systems often require dedicated rooms or outdoor space for installation, modular chiller plants offer a more compact footprint. The options are many, and include their installation in smaller spaces or their distribution throughout a facility.

7. Short installation time

Commissioning times are greatly reduced, as all piping joints, electrical and control signals are tested at the factory. Additionally, because modular plants come from the factory as standard equipment, the number of required permits is greatly reduced.

8. Factory-made means higher quality

Works like pipe cutting, welding and cable pulling are performed at the factory in a controlled and clean environment, with tools for precision. This translates into excellent quality for the final product, as opposed to the conventional approaches, which means site works are done in a dirty and sometimes unsuitable environment.

Additionally, the fact that most materials are installed at the factory and the site works means required site manpower is reduced. In conventional chiller plants, a wide range of materials and qualified manpower is required, which sometimes might not be available (for instance, in the case of remote areas). Modular chiller plants solve this.

9. Noise control

While conventional facilities can pose noise pollution, a modular chiller plant offers reduced noise levels.

When are modular chiller plants convenient?

Based on the previous advantages, here are some scenarios where modular chillers would be the preferred option:

  • When precise temperature control is needed for safety and quality. Such is the case of the manufacturing of certain products, including battery production factories.
  • Sites aiming at flexible and scalable cooling solutions. For instance, certain data center cooling solutions need to face fluctuating cooling demands due to changes in server loads and equipment upgrades. On the contrary, a modular chiller system can efficiently adapt to these varying loads, providing reliable and energy-efficient cooling while allowing for future expansion.
  • Projects that demand a quick installation 
  • Projects that have limited access to manpower
  • Sites where space limitations are crucial
  • Operators looking to minimize their environmental impact. This is particularly true of industries that are part of the transition towards a green economy, including renewable energy production facilities, waste-to-energy plants or water treatment and desalination plants

While modular chillers offer a wide range of advantages, they aren’t the only option and certainly not the best option for all types of projects. 

This is why at ARANER we prefer offering a tailor-made approach to cooling solutions, recognising a ‘one-size-fits-all-’ mentality is not the best approach to thermal engineering.

Our aim is to design plants to meet project demands, all with the smallest environmental footprint and best cost-efficiency. This often involves a customized approach to cooling plants that may involve state-of-the-art solutions like  Thermal Energy Storage (TES) to boost efficiency.

As such, when approached with a new project, we take the time to analyze which solution will optimize the plant’s energy and economic output. Our thermal engineering expertise guides your project in the choice between modular and conventional chillers, leading to cutting-edge installations that adjust to each project’s needs and guarantee total reliability and top-performance. 

Want to learn more about the advantages of modular chillers and whether they’re a good choice for your project? Download our district energy ebook, discover our district cooling line and get in touch with us and speak to our team about how we can help you.

Nueva llamada a la acción

icon-time 5 min