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The Netherlands Non-topical article

Electrical compression cooling versus absorption

cooling - a comparison
Harry Hondeman, The Netherlands

Within the context of Annex 24, a comparison is presented between two types of cooling systems: one
using an electrical compression chiller and the other using an absorption chiller. The absorption chillers
considered are all driven by heat from CHP (Combined Heat and Power) units. The comparison focuses on
the relative levels of primary energy consumption and CO2 emission. A spreadsheet program is used to
calculate these relative levels.

overall absorption cooling process, it is at a higher pressure so that it can be

Introduction important to understand how CHPs condensed at a higher temperature (for
This article focuses on the Dutch work. There are two basic types of example 120°C). As a result, the
situation. In the Netherlands, Combined CHPs: the “heat-focused” type and the electrical efficiency of the CHP unit
Heat and Power units (CHPs) are a “electricity-focused” type. falls to 52%.
popular method for generating heat and
electricity. The heat generated can be The heat-focused CHP is meant
used to drive an absorption chiller and primarily to supply heat, and the Calculation method
provide cooling. This article compares electricity generated is a high-value by- A spreadsheet program is used to
absorption chillers driven by heat product that can be fed to the national calculate the overall energy efficiencies
supplied by a CHP with electrically- power grid. Such CHPs are, for and CO2 emissions of the two systems
powered chillers. In order to compare example, used for farming under glass depicted in Figure 1. In order to use the
the overall effect of cooling on fossil to heat greenhouses. The operation of spreadsheet program, one must first
fuel consumption and on CO2 such a CHP is determined primarily by enter values for the energy conversion
emissions, it is necessary to consider the demand for heat. Typically, such efficiencies and energy losses
the total process. Figure 1 is an overall units are powered by gas engines. associated with the various processes in
representation of both cooling systems. Figure 1, as well as for the CO2 23
The electricity-focused CHP is meant emissions generated per unit of fossil
In both systems, fossil fuel is converted primarily to supply electricity, and the fuel used. The spreadsheet will be
into heat and/or electricity after which heat generated is a by-product that can added to the HPC website shortly,
heat or electricity is used to provide be used for various purposes - for allowing interested parties to enter their
cooling. As the CHP plays a central role example powering an absorption chiller. own data on efficiencies, losses and
in determining the efficiency of the It is typically a combined cycle CHP, CO2 emission, and to calculate results
which consists of a gas-fired turbine in for their own particular situation. Data
Absorption cooling system
Electricity grid
combination with an exhaust-gas-driven for the Dutch situation, as used in this
steam generator. The heat contained in paper, are presented in Tables 1 and 2.
Primary Grid the exhaust gases from the turbine is
energy plant used to produce high-pressure steam in Table 1 presents three reference
Electricity the steam generator. If the system does efficiency scenarios with which fossil
Primary CHP
not need to supply heat, the temperature fuel is converted into electricity by the
Absorption in the condenser unit of the steam grid power plant depicted in Figure 1.
Heat chiller Cooling
generator is generally only 5-10°C The spreadsheet program is used to
above ambient temperature, which is make calculations for all three
Electrical compression cooling system too little to allow much practical use of scenarios.
Electricity grid the waste heat. State-of-the-art
combined cycle power plants have an In order to make the calculations, the
Primary Grid
electrical efficiency of 55% when following assumptions were made:
power Compression
energy plant cooler Cooling operation is optimised for the
production of electricity. However, if • when using a heat-focused CHP to
the CHP also has to supply heat for produce heat for driving an
▲ Figure 1: Schematic overview of driving an absorption chiller, the heat absorption chiller: The electricity
absorption cooling and electrical cooling. from the steam cycle must be drawn off production by the CHP leads to the

IEA Heat Pump Centre Newsletter Volume 18 - No. 4/2000

Non-topical article The Netherlands

elimination of an equivalent amount equivalent amount of electricity The efficiency of most power plants in
of public grid electricity production production elsewhere in the grid. the Netherlands is 42% or more.
capacity. The electrical efficiency of The amount of extra fossil fuel Modern gas-fired power plants can
the CHP (36%) is lower than that of needed to compensate for this achieve an efficiency of 54%. In future,
the public power plants in the lowering of the electrical output by the average efficiency of power plants
various reference scenarios. An extra generating the electricity by another is expected to increase further. At
amount of fossil fuel is needed to plant in the grid is the energy cost of present, the useful life span of an
compensate for the lower electrical generating the useful heat supplied absorption cooling plant is almost
efficiency of the CHP unit in by the CHP unit, and is used as such 15 years. Decisions on whether or not to
comparison to the public grid. This in the calculations. For CO2 install absorption chillers for cooling
extra amount of fossil fuel is the emissions, a similar procedure is should be based on energy efficiencies
energy cost of generating the useful applied. at present as well as in the future.
heat supplied by the CHP unit, and is
used as such in the calculations. For The remaining data in Table 2 are Figure 3 presents the results of the
CO2 emissions, the same procedure needed to calculate the conversion calculated relative CO2 emissions for
is applied. However, the power efficiencies of the two cooling systems the two cooling systems.
plants in two reference scenarios in Figure 1 and the energy distribution
emit more CO2 than the CHP unit. losses in the system. The amount of CO2 emissions depends
Therefore, a reduction of CO2 not only on the energy efficiency of the
emissions is the cost of the generated power plant but also on the type of fuel
heat in these cases; Results and discussion used (see Table 1). As different types of
• when using an electricity-focused Heat-focused CHPs fuel are used in the reference scenarios,
CHP to produce heat for an The results calculated for the energy the results are given separately for each
absorption chiller: Heat is the by- comparison of compression cooling and scenario. As expected, the CO2
product. Eliminating some potential absorption cooling driven by a heat- emissions per unit of cooling capacity
production capacity at the focused CHP are presented in Figure 2. for electrical compression cooling
“electricity-focused” CHP plant in decrease as the COP of the cooling
order to produce heat necessitates an The solid curve passes through those system increases. For absorption
points at which the energy efficiency of cooling, two scenarios (POP, ANG)
both cooling systems is equal. At these result in negative CO2 emissions. The
24 points, the values for the efficiency of reason is that the gas-fired CHP unit
▼ Table 1: Efficiency of electricity the power plant used as a reference and produces less CO2 than the coal- or oil-
generation in three “standardised” types of for the COP (Coefficient Of fired reference power plants in these
public power plants in the Netherlands Performance = cooling capacity/ cases. This causes negative “CO2
electrical input) of the compression emission cost” for the heat to drive the
code fuel efficiency CO2 chiller are such that both cooling absorption chiller, and therefore
% kg/GJ
systems are equally efficient. The red negative CO2 emissions for absorption
Best available area above and to the right of the solid cooling. Figure 3 shows that in the POP
technology BAT gas 55.0 56 line represents those combinations of reference scenario this reduction would
national grid ANG mix 42.0 73
values in which compression cooling is be considerable. In the BAT scenario all
Phase-out more efficient. The blue area below and power plants are gas-fired. As a matter
power plant POP coal 37.0 98 to the left of the solid line defines the of fact, if the COP of the electrical
range of values in which absorption chiller is greater than 1.6, compression
▼ Table 2: Energy conversion efficiencies cooling is more efficient. cooling produces less CO2 emissions
and energy losses for the various steps in than absorption cooling in this scenario.
Figure 1 Modern technologies make it possible
to achieve a COP of 5 for electrical Electricity-focused CHPs
Heat-focused CHP: compression cooling. Modern cooling Figure 4 summarises the spreadsheet
CHP elect. eff. 36 %
CHP overall eff. 85 %
plants used in the food industry and for calculations for the energy comparison
Electricity-focused CHP with heat drawn off: cooling buildings can even achieve a when the absorption chiller is driven by
CHP elec. eff. 52 % COP higher than 5. Assuming a COP of heat from an electricity-focused CHP.
CHP overall eff. 85 %
Absorption cooling COPth* 0.70 -
5 or higher, Figure 2 shows that if the
Absorption cooling Rel ** 40 - efficiency of the reference power plant The PER (Primary Energy Ratio) on the
Distribution loss electricity grid 5 % exceeds 42%, then the energy efficiency Y-axis is equal to the cooling capacity
Distribution loss heat distribution 10 %
* COPth = cooling capacity/thermal energy input
of electrical compression cooling is delivered by the system per unit of
** Rel = cooling capacity/auxiliary electrical input higher than that of absorption cooling. primary energy input to the system.

IEA Heat Pump Centre Newsletter Volume 18 - No. 4/2000

The Netherlands Non-topical article

Again, results are presented for each same as in the energy comparison
COP electric cooling

14 reference scenario. Figure 4 shows that, presented above.

10 regardless of the scenario chosen, if the
8 COP for the compression chiller is
4 greater than 6.1, then compression Conclusion
2 cooling is more favourable from an If electrical compression cooling is
35% 40% 45% 50% 55% energy perspective. The reason why the compared to absorption cooling driven
Efficiency of reference power plant reference scenario, and therefore the by heat-focused CHPs, compression
▲ Figure 2: Comparison of energy efficiency of the power grid, has no cooling is more favourable from an
efficiency of electrical compression cooling influence on the “break-even” point energy efficiency point of view if the
and absorption cooling driven by heat- when comparing the two systems can be COP of the compression chiller is
focused CHP. explained as follows. greater than 5 (which is technically
quite feasible nowadays) and the
As explained earlier, the energy cost of electrical efficiency of the power grid is
(kg/GJ cooling capacity)

50 the power delivered by the CHP to the 42% or greater. From the perspective of
CO2 emission

0 absorption cooler is defined as the extra CO2 emissions, compression cooling is

BAT, electric BAT, absorption
amount of fossil fuel needed to shown to be more favourable only if the
ANG, electric ANG, absorption compensate for the reduced electricity reference grid is of the BAT (Best
POP, electric POP, absorption
-100 generation capacity. This extra amount Available Technology) type and the
-150 is proportional to the efficiency of the COP of the electrical chiller is greater
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
reference power plant used to generate than 1.6. Otherwise, absorption cooling
COP electric cooling
the compensating electricity. For the is more favourable.
▲ Figure 3: Comparison of CO2 emissions compression cooling system, the
for electrical compression cooling and efficiency is also proportional to the If electrical compression cooling is
absorption cooling driven by heat-focused efficiency of the reference power plant compared to absorption cooling driven
CHP. and to the COP of the compression by electricity-focused CHPs, then
BAT, electric BAT, absorption
cooler. When the efficiencies for the electrical compression cooling is more
ANG, electric ANG, absorption two cooling systems are assumed to be favourable if the COP of the electrical
POP, electric POP, absorption
equal, the efficiency of the reference chiller is greater than 6.1. If the COP is
power plant drops out of the equation, less than 6.1, absorption cooling is more
PER of cooling system

3 as it is present on both sides. favourable. This is true from the 25

Therefore, there is only one COP perspective of energy efficiency as well
of the compression cooler where the as CO2 emissions and regardless of
1 efficiencies of both cooling systems are which reference scenario is chosen for
equal, regardless of the efficiency of the the electricity grid.
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 reference power plant.
COP electric cooling

▲ Figure 4: Comparison of energy efficiency From Figure 4 it is clear that, from

of electrical compression cooling and an energy perspective, compression
absorption cooling driven by electricity- cooling is more favourable than
focused CHP. absorption cooling driven by an
electricity-focused CHP only if the
BAT, electric BAT, absorption
ANG, electric ANG, absorption COP for the compression cooler is
POP, electric POP, absorption
50 greater than 6.1. In other words, the
(kg/GJ cooling capacity)

break-even point is a COP of 6.1.
CO2 emission

The results calculated for CO2
20 emissions are summarised in Figure 5. Harry Hondeman
10 Gastec N.V.
0 Figure 5 shows a comparable result for PO Box 137
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 CO2 emissions as for energy efficiency. 7300 AC Apeldoorn
COP electric cooling
The break-even point, regardless of the The Netherlands
▲ Figure 5: Comparison of CO 2 emissions scenario chosen, is a COP of 6.1. At Tel: +31-55 5 393 299
for electrical compression cooling and COP values higher than 6.1, Fax: +31-55 5 393 223
absorption cooling driven by electricity- compression cooling becomes more E-mail:
focused CHP. favourable. The reasoning here is the Internet:

IEA Heat Pump Centre Newsletter Volume 18 - No. 4/2000