New 'windless' air conditioner comes to Hong Kong... but it's not cheap
Originally published at the South China Morning Post on June 23, 2014.
At first glance, the aluminium pipes in the middle of the showroom may not look special. Yet they may help solve a problem that dogs many Hong Kong businesses: how do you keep customers cool without it literally and figuratively costing the earth?
The droplets of water on the surface of the pipes offer a clue.
"It is from condensation," explains David Mak Tun-kit, executive director of Ecowin Distribution Hong Kong. "It's just like taking a can of Coke out of the fridge."
The system, pioneered by Japanese company Ecofactory, works by pumping water cooled to about seven degrees Celsius through the pipes, absorbing heat and humidity. In winter, the system can be reversed, with the water heated to about 40 degrees to keep the room warm. Heating and cooling takes place in an outdoor unit, and water is reused.
And, because it does not require power-hungry fans to blow out chilled air, the system uses about 30 per cent less power than regular air conditioners - offering big savings. According to government figures for 2011, 30 per cent of Hong Kong's electricity is used on air conditioning.
"It is energy-saving and saves the environment," Mak said of the Ecowin system. "It's also windless, so you feel more comfortable, and soundless."
It also evenly heats or cools the entire room, he adds, rather than leaving cold or warm pockets. There are downsides, however. One is that the system takes time to work. It can take 20 minutes to heat or cool a 200 sq ft room, Mak says.
Another is the equipment and installation cost, which are about 50 per cent more than a conventional air conditioning system at about HK$40,000. But Mak says the savings on bills can bring dividends in about four to five years.
"The price will go down as manufacturing increases," said Wei Ming Lin, managing director of Ecofactory (Asia). He hopes the system will one day become cheap enough to be affordable for family homes. It is already common in offices, homes for elderly people and indoor stadiums in Japan, he says.
One of the first Hong Kong businesses to install the system is the Butterfly group of hotels and serviced flats. It has installed an Ecowin Ornament system - with a panel to keep it dry, unlike the pipe system in the Ecowin showroom - at a room in Butterfly on Prat in Tsim Sha Tsui.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: An air conditioner that is green - but not cheap