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This article was published in ASHRAE Journal, March 2012.

Copyright 2012 American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning

Engineers, Inc. Posted at www.ashrae.org. This article may not be copied and/or distributed electronically or in paper form without permission
of ASHRAE. For more information about ASHRAE Journal, visit www.ashrae.org.

Optimizing Design & Control

Of Chilled Water Plants
Part 4: Chiller & Cooling Tower Selection
By Steven T. Taylor, P.E., Fellow ASHRAE 5. Select cooling tower type, speed

control option, efficiency, approach
his is the fourth of a series of articles discussing how to optimize the temperature, and make cooling tower
design and control of chilled water plants. The series will summarize 6. Select chillers;
7. Finalize piping system design, cal-
ASHRAE’s Self Directed Learning (SDL) course called Fundamentals of culate pump head, and select pumps; and
8. Develop and optimize control se-
Design and Control of Central Chilled Water Plants and the research quences.
Each of these steps is discussed in this
that was performed to support its development. See sidebar, Page 69, series of five articles. This article dis-
cusses steps 5 and 6.
for a summary of the topics to be discussed. The articles, and the SDL
course upon which it is based, are intended to provide techniques for Cooling Tower Selection
Cooling tower characteristics the de-
plant design and control that require little or no added engineering signer must select and define are de-
scribed in the following paragraphs.
time compared to standard practice but at the same time result in sig- Each is briefly discussed, but this article
focusses on the last two variables, effi-
nificantly reduced plant life-cycle costs. ciency and approach temperature.
•• Open vs. closed circuit. This discus-
A procedure was developed to provide 2. Select chilled water temperatures, sion is limited to open circuit towers.
near-optimum plant design for most flow rate, and primary pipe sizes; Closed circuit towers are seldom used
chiller plants including the following 3. Select condenser water distribution
steps: system; About the Author
1. Select chilled water distribution sys- 4. Select condenser water tempera- Steven T. Taylor, P.E., is a principal at Taylor
tem; tures, flow rate, and primary pipe sizes; Engineering in Alameda, Calif.

60 ASHRAE Journal a s h r a e . o r g March 2012

for chiller plants due to higher costs and reduced ef-
ficiency due to the added approach of the heat ex- Life-Cycle Energy Cost Chillers Towers & VFDs
changer and higher tower fan energy due to the heat 3 Million CW Piping CW Pumps & VFDs
exchanger pressure drop.
•• Propeller vs. centrifugal fans. Propeller fans are 2.5 Million
almost always preferred due to much higher efficien-

Life-Cycle Cost ($)

cy (they use about half the power of centrifugal fans) 2 Million
and lower costs. Centrifugal fans are also limited
to systems smaller than about 1,100 gpm (69 L/s) 1.5 Million
per ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1 prescriptive re-
quirements. 1 Million
•• Draw-through vs. blow-through fan arrangement.
Most propeller-fan towers are draw-through with top 500,000

discharge. This results in a high exit velocity, which

reduces the possibility of recirculation of tower ef- 0
High Medium Low
fluent, and the tower mass below the fan reduces fan
sound transmission into the occupied space that is
often below the tower. Figure 1: Life-cycle costs of 1,000 ton (3157 kW) chilled plant serving
•• Cross-flow vs. counter-flow arrangement. The a Miami office building as a function of tower efficiency range.
flow arrangement describes whether airflow through
the tower is sideways across the water flowing downward 95°F (35°C) to 85°F (29.4°C) at 75°F (23.9°C) ambient wet-
through the tower fill or upwards, counter to the water flow bulb temperature divided by the tower fan motor horsepower
direction. Counter-flow towers are usually a bit less expen- (kW). Optimum tower efficiency is discussed further below.
sive, but both arrangements are effective. The selection is •• Approach temperature. The tower approach temperature is
often driven by the physical constraints of the tower location: the difference between the temperature of the water leaving
cross-flow towers tend to have a low profile but a large foot- the tower and the ambient wet-bulb temperature. Optimum ap-
print, while counter-flow towers are the opposite. proach is discussed further below.
•• Single-speed vs. two-speed vs. pony motors vs. variable To determine optimum DT, efficiency, and approach tem-
speed motors. Variable speed drives (VSDs) are the pre- perature, a large office building chilled water plant was ana-
ferred approach to fan control since they minimize energy lyzed as part of the ASHRAE self-directed learning course
costs, reduce belt wear due to soft start, and provide the most that is the basis of this series of articles. Utility costs and
stable condenser water temperature control compared to life-cycle cost assumptions are those used in the evaluation
other methods. VSD costs are now low enough that they are of energy conservation measures for Standard 90.1-2010
clearly cost effective, and often even lower cost, than alterna- ($0.094/kWh average electricity costs and 14 scalar ratio1
tives such as two-speed and pony motors. [the scalar ratio is essentially the maximum simple payback
••Gear vs. belt drive. Gear drives cost more but reduce period]). The plant was modeled in great detail (including
maintenance frequency and may reduce maintenance costs real equipment and piping costs) for three climates: Oak-
compared to belt drives. But the increasing popularity of land, Calif., Albuquerque, N.M., and Chicago. Additional
VSDs has also increased the popularity of belt drives; the analyses for optimum approach temperature were made for
belts last longer due to the soft start feature of VSDs, and Miami, Las Vegas, and Atlanta. The condenser water system
belt drives allow near zero minimum speeds while gear was designed, cost estimated, and modeled at all permuta-
drives require a minimum speed of approximately 20% to tions of the following design parameters:
ensure adequate lubrication. Lower minimum speed reduc- •• Condenser water DTs of approximately 9°F, 12.5°F and
es the wear-and-tear of fan cycling, reduces noise levels 15°F (5°C, 6.9°C and 8.3°C). In Part 3 of this series, a 15°F
and abrupt changes in noise levels, and improves energy (8.3°C) condenser water DT was found to be the life-cycle
efficiency. cost optimum for all climate zones, tower sizes, and tower ef-
•• Temperature range. Tower range is the difference be- ficiencies analyzed.
tween the temperature of the water entering and leaving the •• Three ranges of tower efficiencies: “low” was the least ef-
tower, also known as condenser water DT. Optimum con- ficient available for the cross-flow propeller fan tower series
denser water DT was discussed in Part 3 of this series of analyzed with efficiencies ranging from 45 to 60 gpm/hp (3.8
articles. to 5.1 L/s·kW); “medium” with efficiencies ranging from 65
•• Efficiency. Cooling tower efficiency, expressed in gpm/ to 75 gpm/hp (5.5 to 6.4 L/s·kW); and “high” with efficiencies
hp (L/s·kW), is defined by ASHRAE Standard 90.1 as the ranging from 80 to 100 gpm/hp (6.8 to 8.5 L/s·kW). Note that
maximum flow rate in gpm (L/s) that the tower can cool from even the “low” efficiency towers are significantly more effi-

March 2012 ASHRAE Journal 61

cient than the Standard 90.1 minimum of 38.2 gpm/ 300,000
hp (3.2 L/s·kW).
••Tower approach temperatures ranging from
2.5°F to 11°F (1.4°C to 6.1°C) based on actual tow- 250,000

er selections for a cross-flow propeller fan tower

series. 200,000
Tower costs were based on manufacturer’s price

Tower Cost ($)

plus sales tax and contractor markup, plus a 50%
premium that is intended to estimate the secondary
installed cost impact of larger towers. Tower size
(both footprint and height) and weight increase with 100,000
increasing efficiency and decreasing approach. Both
can impact tower installed costs depending on tower 50,000 Oakland Albuquerque Chicago × Miami
location. The actual premium can vary from close to
nothing for a tower located on grade to a significant
premium if the tower is located on the roof and re- 0
0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14
quires architectural screening to hide the tower from
Approach (°F)
view since larger towers will require additional struc-
tural work and larger screens. The 50% premium is Figure 2: Cooling tower installed costs for a 1,000 ton (3157 kW)
probably conservative; in most cases we believe the chilled plant as a function of tower approach.
premium will be lower.
Figure 1, Page 61, shows life-cycle costs for the three in Miami with a tower range of 15°F (8.3°C); life-cycle
ranges of cooling tower efficiency for an office building costs were minimized with the high efficiency towers. This


62 A S H R A E J o u r n a l March 2012
was true for all climate zones, range, and approach
temperatures analyzed. The analyses were based 30
on a fairly aggressive scalar ratio (maximum sim-
ple payback period) of 14 but high-efficiency tow- 25
Oakland Atlanta
ers were found to be cost effective down to a scalar Chicago Las Vegas

Tower Approach + Range

ratio of about five, i.e. they will have a simple pay- 20
back of five years compared to the next best tower
option, even in the mildest climates. The reason
is that the net cost premium for increasing tower
efficiency is relatively small; physical size and fill
area of the tower increase but motor and VSD size 10

and cost decrease, partially offsetting the tower

cost increase. For example, the net installed first 5
cost add for the high efficiency tower vs. the low
efficiency tower for the 1,000 ton (3517 kW) plant 0
in Miami was only about $9,000, a 6% increase, 0 1,000 2,000 3,000 4,000 5,000 6,000 7,000 8,000 9,000 10,000
while annual energy savings were about $5,500 Cooling Degree-Days – Base 50°F
and life-cycle energy savings were $7,700. The
magnitude of the savings is smaller in milder cli- Figure 3: Life-cycle cost optimum approach plus range as a function of
mates, but the high efficiency towers were found cooling degree-days with a base of 50°F (10°C).
to be cost effective in all climates analyzed.
While increasing tower efficiency from low to high is rel- study), the same cannot be said for reducing tower approach.
atively inexpensive (about 6% to 12% of tower costs in this As shown in Figure 2, the cost of a tower that provides a low


March 2012 ASHRAE Journal 63


Cooling Cooling Cooling Cooling Cooling

Tower 1 Tower 2 Tower 3 Tower 4 Tower 5


Chiller 3


Chiller 2


Chiller 1





Figure 4: Example system is an all-variable speed plant with three chillers.

approach of 2°F to 3°F (1.1°C to 1.6°C) can be 60% higher than approaches will be cost effective for occupancies with longer
a tower providing a 10°F to 12°F (5.5°C to 6.6°C) approach. annual operating hours and higher loads, such as data centers.
A reasonable correlation was found between the sum of Higher efficiency and lower approaches may also be cost ef-
the life-cycle cost optimum tower approach (TA) (again using fective for systems with water-side economizers; this study
ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1 energy costs and scalar ra- and resulting recommendations are based on systems with air-
tio) and tower range (aka condenser water temperature differ- side economizers.
ence, DTCW) and cooling degree-days base 50 (CDD50). This
is shown in Figure 3, Page 63, for each of the climate zones Chiller Selection
tested. The straight line curve fit is approximately: In all other parts of this series of articles and the ASHRAE
SDL upon which it is based, the design guidance has been
TA+DTCW = 27 – 0.001CDD50 (1) geared to providing near-optimum plant design from a life-
cycle cost perspective with minimal or no added engineering
Solving for approach: time. Unfortunately, chiller selection is one area where this
TA = 27 – DTCW – 0.001CDD50 (2) is not possible. To make an optimum selection, significantly
more analysis is required than is typical of standard practice.
Based on the limited data, the approach determined from This is because large water-cooled chillers are custom manu-
this equation should be limited to no more than 9.5°F (5.3°C) factured products, not off-the-shelf items with a fixed design,
and no less than 2.5°F (1.4°C). which makes selection very difficult. Not only are there of-
In summary, based on this analysis, the following design ten major design options such as centrifugal vs. screw com-
criteria are recommended for selecting cooling towers for of- pressors, refrigerants R-123 vs. R-134a, constant vs. variable
fice buildings and buildings with similar load profiles: speed, and conventional vs. magnetic bearings, there can be
1. Tower efficiency should be 80 gpm/hp (6.8 L/s·kW) or literally hundreds of combinations of evaporator, condenser,
greater. and compressor options for a given capacity that can radically
2. Tower approach should be selected using Equation 2, with affect chiller price and performance. To make the best choice
a minimum of 2.5°F (1.4°C) and a maximum of 9.5°F (5.3°C). among these options, the following approach is recommended:
While occupancy types other than offices were not explic- 1. Calculate the required plant total capacity and design
itly analyzed, we expect that even higher efficiency and lower temperatures and flow rates.

64 ASHRAE Journal a s h r a e . o r g March 2012

Example: Chiller and Cooling Tower Selection
The recommended performance bid procedure was ap- costs was Chiller A-1. It also had the lowest energy costs,
plied to the project shown in Figure 4 (Page 64). The all-vari- but it was the most expensive of the 11 options evaluat-
able speed plant includes three 775 ton (2,726 kW) chillers ed. Chiller B-1 also performed very well and, in this case,
and serves a large office complex and data center. On past was considered equal to Chiller A-1 from a life-cycle cost
projects, chillers have been bid without specifying individual standpoint; it could be made to rank best with reasonable
size, just overall plant size and redundancy requirements, if changes to assumptions such as energy escalation rates, dis-
any. In this case, the 24/7 data center loads were such that count rates, and data center load. With these two chillers
three equally sized chillers fit well and thus were stipulated in considered equal with respect to life-cycle costs, the selec-
the bid. Bidders were allowed to choose the condenser water tion came down to soft factors. Ultimately, Chiller B-1 was
flow rate and temperatures that associated with three differ- selected due to:
ent pipe sizes and provided roughly a 9.2°F, 12°F, and 19°F • Chiller B-1 had lower first costs by about $150,000
(5.1°C, 6.7°C, and 10.5°C) tower range. Condenser water compared to Chiller A-1. Future energy savings pro-
temperatures were specified based on the performance of jections are just that, projections, but first costs are
the previously selected cooling towers. The three range op- very precise and very real. It is therefore not uncom-
tions required that adjustments had to be made to the bids mon for owners to select the lowest first cost option
to reflect the different piping and pump sizes. While not re- among two options that have nearly equal life-cycle
quired by the specifications, variable speed drives were in- costs.
cluded in all proposals. Simulations of the various bids were • Chiller B-1 required less space than Chiller A-1 both
run in a special version of DOE-2.2 that accurately modeled for the chillers themselves and also for condenser wa-
chilled water temperature reset and integrated waterside ter pumps and piping since Chiller B-1 was selected
economizer operation, features that were not available in based on the 12°F (6.7°C) DT option while Chiller A-1
the standard version of DOE-2.2 at the time. used the 9.2°F (5.1°C) option. The mechanical room
The first cost, energy costs, and life-cycle cost results are was space-limited so the smaller size was a significant
shown in Table 1. The chiller option with the lowest life-cycle factor in the selection.

Incremental Owner Incremental

CW Annual Incremental LCC LCC
Option kW/ton Owner Cost Cost Annual Cost
gpm Cost Rank vs. Lowest Rank
vs. Lowest Rank vs. Lowest

A-1 0.527 2,300 $290,020 11 – 1 – 1

A-2 0.623 1,115 $174,105 10 $49,008 3 $305,604 3

B-1 0.581 1,775 $146,692 9 $19,832 2 $27,248 2

B-2 0.590 1,775 $24,359 3 $143,351 4 $967,305 4

C-1 0.596 1,775 $24,746 4 $151,572 5 $1,038,401 5

C-2 0.608 1,775 $16,610 2 $166,490 6 $1,158,575 7

C-3 0.609 1,775 – 1 $168,355 7 $1,158,007 6

C-4 0.573 2,330 $76,554 7 $183,853 10 $1,367,859 11

C-5 0.575 2,330 $61,443 6 $174,195 8 $1,269,680 8

C-6 0.578 2,330 $76,941 8 $183,058 9 $1,361,409 9

C-7 0.581 2,330 $55,341 5 $185,780 11 $1,363,221 10

Table 1: Example life-cycle cost (LCC) analysis results.

2. Pick a bid list of chiller vendors based on past experience, mum efficiency to very high efficiency and often even on the
local representation, etc. number of chillers and their sizes (e.g., equally vs. unequally
3. Request chiller bids based on a performance specification. sized chillers).
Multiple options should be encouraged ranging from code mini- 4. Adjust bids for other first-cost impacts.

March 2012 ASHRAE Journal 65

5. Estimate energy usage of options with a detailed computer •• The procedure generally results in a more energy-efficient
model of the building/plant. Commonly used modeling pro- chiller selection. The traditional approach often leads to a low
grams are EnergyPlus and DOE-2. cost mentality where the least expensive, and often least ef-
6. Estimate maintenance cost differences between options. ficient, chiller is selected. The opposite also can be true: the
7. Calculate life-cycle costs. selection might be the top-of-the-line chiller that is efficient
8. Select the chiller option with the lowest life-cycle cost. but too expensive to be life-cycle cost justified.
9. Hard-spec the selected chiller (no substitutions) and in- •• Chiller vendors can make proposals that take advantage of
clude contractor price in specifications. their systems’ strengths or “sweet spots” both for cost and ef-
This performance-based bid approach should take place ficiency. The conventional approach, where size and efficiency
once plant capacity and the building load profile are well de- are more arbitrarily selected, usually favors one vendor who
fined, typically at the end of design development phase. It has happens to have a “sweet spot” for the selected criteria.
been successfully used on dozens of projects including those •• Chiller selections are finalized in the design stage. Selec-
that require competitive bidding, such as most state and fed- tion at this time allows the designer to customize the design of
eral government projects. This is because most of the statutes the plant, including physical layout and chiller-specific design
mandate only that competitive bids occur, not that they occur parameters such as minimum flow (which affects minimum
at the traditional bid time when the design is complete, and flow bypass line and valve size on primary variable flow sys-
most allow metrics such as low life-cycle cost (not low first tems) knowing that the chiller selection will not be changed
costs) to be the basis of selection provided the selection crite- at project bid time. The traditional approach can result in sub-
ria are well defined. stitutions at bid time that can lead to coordination issues (and
The recommended approach has many advantages: costs) due to changes in size, weight, peak power, minimum
•• The owner generally benefits from lower life-cycle costs. flow rates, piping connections (even pass vs. odd pass), etc.
•• Arbitrary selection of chiller vendor and model is elimi- There are also disadvantages to this approach:
nated, potentially lowering chiller costs due to a more com- •• It takes more time, both for the engineer and the equip-
petitive bid process. ment vendors.

www.info.hotims.com/38000-52 www.info.hotims.com/38000-10
66 A S H R A E J o u r n a l March 2012
••Assumptions made in the energy calculations may etc. These details, however, are not usually appropriate for
prove to be incorrect. For instance, utility rates, internal a performance specification. For instance, the specification
loads, and occupancy patterns assumed in the analysis may should not specify chiller efficiency or whether the chiller
not be correct or may change over time. Energy escalation must have a variable speed drive or magnetic bearings. Ven-
and inflation rates used in the analysis also have consider- dors should be encouraged to propose as many chiller op-
able uncertainty. tions as possible without constraints; the life-cycle cost anal-
•• The computer model used to calculate energy usage is im- ysis will determine which option is the best so constraints
perfect in the way it models building and system loads, the are not necessary and may inadvertently eliminate better
chiller plant and pumping systems, and plant control strate- choices. In general, the specifications should list only mini-
gies. Optimum plant control strategies are often complex and mally required details such as total capacity, evaporator and
can vary from one chiller option to another. These strategies condenser design conditions, and any application constraints
cannot always be modeled accurately by existing energy simu- such as redundancy and space and noise limits. An example
lation tools. specification is included in the referenced manuals.
•• The benefits of long-term product reliability and vendor To fairly evaluate chiller performance, accurate models
support are seldom included in the life-cycle cost calculations must be created of each proposed chiller. Chiller perfor-
because their cost benefits are difficult to estimate, although mance data must be collected over a wide range of operat-
they may be significant. ing conditions so that an accurate regression model can be
Details of how to implement this approach can be found in made for use in the energy model of the building and plant.
the ASHRAE SDL course upon which this series of articles A spreadsheet for data collection and creating EnergyPlus
is based and in the CoolTools Chilled Water Plant Design and DOE-2 models can be found in the referenced manu-
Guide.2 This article includes only a summary of the key items. als. The form includes entries for pricing and also generates
In the conventional procurement approach, a chiller is typ- full load and part load performance data request forms based
ically specified by capacity, efficiency, construction details, on design conditions that the chiller vendor must complete.

www.info.hotims.com/38000-26 www.info.hotims.com/38000-35

68 A S H R A E J o u r n a l March 2012
Central Chilled Water Plants Series The intent of the SDL (and these articles) is to provide
simple yet accurate advice to help designers and operators
This series of articles summarizes the upcoming Self Directed of chilled water plants to optimize life-cycle costs without
Learning (SDL) course called Fundamentals of Design and Con- having to perform rigorous and expensive life-cycle cost
trol of Central Chilled Water Plants and the research that was analyses for every plant.
performed to support its development. The series includes five In preparing the SDL, a significant amount of simula-
segments. Part One: “Chilled Water Distribution System Selec- tion, cost estimating, and life-cycle cost analysis was
tion” (July 2011), Part 2: “Condenser Water System Design” performed on the most common water-cooled plant con-
(September 2011), and Part 3: “Pipe Sizing and Optimizing DT ” figurations to determine how best to design and control
(December 2012). them. The result is a set of improved design parameters
Optimized control sequences. The series will conclude and techniques that will provide much higher perform-
with a discussion of how to optimally control chilled water ing chilled water plants than common rules-of-thumb and
plants, focusing on all-variable speed plants. standard practice.

The performance data request forms are designed to ensure and towers) of chiller characteristics such as pressure drop
that all operating conditions seen in the model are within the across evaporators and condensers, minimum chilled water
bounds of the collected data so that regression models do not flow rates on variable flow systems, and minimum require-
need to extrapolate outside the data range provided by the ments for lift (the difference between leaving condenser water
manufacturer. temperature and leaving chilled water temperature). It also
The plant modeling software also must be capable of mod- must be able to model various control strategies for operating
eling the impact on overall plant energy use (including pumps cooling tower fans, staging chillers and pumps, and (for vari-

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March 2012 ASHRAE Journal 69

able condenser water flow systems) condenser pump speed. •• Impact on meeting energy targets such as those in the
Because of limitations in most commercial programs such as LEED rating program.
DOE-2.1 and 2.2, more advanced programs such as Energy- •• Impact on redundancy and serviceability of options that
Plus, TRYNSYS, or custom models3 should be used for best include more than one type or size of chiller.
results. •• Impact on construction budget.
There is significant uncertainty in life-cycle cost analy-
sis such as uncertain plant loads and future utility rates. Summary
The results will also vary depending on the life-cycle cost This article is the fourth in a series of five that summarize
parameters selected such as discount rates and escalation chilled water plant design techniques intended to help engi-
rates. Once all of the results are in a spreadsheet, these neers optimize plant design and control with little or no added
variables can be adjusted within reasonable ranges to see engineering effort. In this article, optimum cooling tower and
how they affect life-cycle costs. Typically, there will one chiller selections were discussed. In the next and final article,
to three options that all result in similar life-cycle costs optimized control logic will be addressed.
and each could be the “winner” depending on assumptions.
This group should be considered equal from a life-cycle References
cost perspective, and the final selection based on “soft” fac- 1. McBride, M. 1995. “Development of Economic Scalar Ratios for
tors such as: Standard 90.1.” Proceedings of Thermal Performance of the Exterior
•• Past experience with the chiller manufacturer. Envelopes of Buildings VI. ASHRAE.
2. Taylor, S., et al. 2009. CoolTools Chilled Water Plant Design
•• Past experience with the local service company. Guide, Energy Design Resources. http://tinyurl.com/7ag9s24 and
•• Refrigerant preferences with respect to their impact on http://tinyurl.com/82yllad.
ozone or global warming. 3. Hydeman, M., G. Zhou. 2007. “Optimized chilled water plant
•• Preferences for open vs. hermetic motors. control.” ASHRAE Journal 49(6).


70 A S H R A E J o u r n a l March 2012