ACHRNEWS

Update on the Portable Market

June 29, 2009
Public acceptance is a key trend affecting the market positively, although there are some reductions. (Courtesy of Atlas Sales & Rentals Inc.)


The portable cooling market has a lot of things in its favor. Up to the beginning of June, however, the weather was not one of them - and the weather is still a driver in the portable cooling market. Once the weather does set that part of the market in motion, there are a lot more opportunities on the horizon.





LONG-TERM GOALS

According to Garth Tagge of Spot Coolers, “When contractors are using us, perhaps it’s strictly for a portable air conditioning need, or as part of a replacement contract. In other cases, it could be to fulfill supplemental cooling during a maintenance agreement. With a contractor, it’s probably part of his overall bid.

“When business is down with those folks,” it affects everyone in the portable cooling market. “Most of the time we’re part of a larger project.”

The economy is causing some customers to cut back in areas they may regret later, he said. “People are postponing whatever work they can, cutting down on maintenance schedules.” Cutting down on maintenance, however, “is a short-term revenue fix that creates a long-term revenue problem.” This eventually leads to more emergency work due to the problems associated with deferred maintenance.

“We’re not seeing any of our environments go away; we’re seeing some reductions,” Tagge said. “There is postponement in some cases, but in the end that will come back to haunt those folks.”

Some end users are cutting back on the service levels that they’ve been getting, he said. “In some cases they’re really leaning on the contractor to get something done more quickly.” This can lead to an increased need for portables.

Public acceptance is a key trend affecting the market, said Clark Michel, vice president of Atlas Sales & Rentals Inc. “Portable air conditioning provides a very effective way to bridge the gap and deliver the cooling that is needed - whether the cause is a power outage, a special event, or a service disruption with the primary air conditioning.”

Now that portable cooling is more widely accepted, he said, “Customers are willing to use this equipment and, in fact, often expect it - creating a strong rental market for contractors as well as a way to solve problems.”



CUSTOMERS' NEEDS

The portable cooling market is evolving to meet many specific market needs, such as data centers and to satisfy tenants whose lease may be up for renewal.

In many of today’s applications, “a lot of our equipment is purchased and used as a primary piece of equipment,” said Tagge. For instance, it’s used in cases to provide small tonnage in an enclosed building. “Our equipment can often be an alternative to putting in a special-purpose piece of equipment,” such as data rooms.

It can also help building owners create a more favorable environment for tenants. For example, “if the tenant is going to move at some point in the near future, or expand/move the data room, they look at us more favorably. It’s actually in our favor.”

Data centers in particular are generating more heat, and more of a need for portable a/c equipment. IT equipment is getting smaller and more powerful, but at the same time they produce a lot more heat, Tagge said. “Cooling equipment is a definite must in any data center of any size at all.”



COST-EFFECTIVE SOLUTIONS

In most comparisons of a 5-ton portable system vs. a 5-ton dedicated data unit (a common size), often the installation cost of the data unit will exceed the cost of the portable unit, Tagge said. “Usually the 5-ton portable comes in cheaper all the way around.” If it’s appropriate for the application, “It could help some guys win jobs.”

The company’s CM-12 model is an installed ceiling-mounted product particularly suitable for data centers. “It’s a contractor item, used in many cases when the alternative, larger dedicated system is more expensive to purchase and install.” The CM-12 is a nominal ton, 110-V unit for small server rooms/data rooms. According to Tagge, the company will be coming out with a larger model.

The increasing pressure to cut costs is a key trend, agreed Michel. “For example, to cool server rooms, portable units can often be installed permanently instead of rooftop units or other unitary systems, at maybe 25-30 percent of the cost.” Another cost-saving application involves nighttime, weekend, and holiday temperature setbacks. “The use of spot cooling during these times is much more cost effective than running the building’s central a/c system and is obviously much greener too, given the energy savings.

“Now that portable units of 5 tons and up are widely available, this practice is becoming even more widespread,” Michel said. “Contractors can benefit by knowing what the opportunities are and using portable cooling for creative problem solving with customers.”



OPPORTUNITIES

When that hot weather comes, some people will opt to rent instead of fixing or improving their existing systems, Tagge said. “If the lease is coming up, they may opt to put in a portable system until they move. They may buy the unit to reach the balance of the term.”

There are at least three different forces driving this growth market, Michel said. “First, due to the effects of climate change, every year we are seeing heat waves earlier in many parts of the country, creating an increased demand for cooling solutions. Second, with the proliferation of computer technology, companies of all sizes now have server rooms that often depend on portable units for primary or supplemental cooling.

“Third, there has been a big leap in the awareness of portable air conditioning to solve a wide range of cooling challenges,” he said. “Fifteen or 20 years ago, very few people even knew about portable cooling, but now the technology is widely accepted by contractors and end users alike.”



Sidebar: Tips for Portable Cooling

Portable coolers, like all air conditioners, must be properly sized for optimum performance. A general rule of thumb is to plan on a minimum of 3.413 Btu per watt, or about 1 ton of air conditioning per 400-600 square feet of room area with a standard ceiling. Additional load factors must then be factored into the calculation, including:

• Size/number of windows and their exposure;

• Amount of insulation used;

• Equipment in the room and how much wattage it consumes. (With computer rooms and telecom closets, this will be a big factor because of the high heat loads generated by such equipment.);

• Number of occupants and activity level within the room;

• Additional cooling sources that may impact temperature in the space (e.g., central air conditioning).

Many portable cooling applications utilize a single duct coming off the top of the unit to dissipate hot air into the return air plenum or out of the space. In a simple portable cooling installation sequence:

1. The contractor prepares to replace a conventional drop ceiling tile with a same-size ceiling exhaust kit provided by the portable cooling supplier.

2. The exhaust duct/tile assembly is secured in the ceiling.

3. The lower end of the duct is connected to the exhaust air vent on the spot cooler.

4. Contractor turns on the installed unit to adjust the settings.

Information provided by Atlas Sales & Rentals Inc., www.atlassales.com.

Publication date: 06/29/2009