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Smaller, Smarter Chillers Can Spell Big Savings on Energy Bills

Paula Chin in Green Ideas on March 18, 2021

Upper East Side, Manhattan

Modular chillers, energy consultants, co-op boards, Con Edison, energy efficiency.

The old workhorse at Plaza Tower (left) and the new modular chiller at 201 E. 77th St.

March 18, 2021

After decades of service, the chiller at the Plaza Tower in Lenox Hill was nearing the end of its useful life. The stand-alone unit had generated chilled water to provide air conditioning for the 34-story, 232-unit property at 118 E. 60th St. since 1988, and the co-op board decided the time had come to replace it – not just with a new model, but a much smarter one. 

“The problem with the old chiller is that it’s a 500-ton unit, which meant that when you turn it on, you’re always running the power at 500 tons, even if it’s a mild day,” says Ira Meister, president of Matthew Adam Properties, which manages the building. “It was incredibly inefficient.” 

To find a solution, the board turned to Bright Power, an energy and water management company, which recommended that the co-op make the switch to a modular chiller system. Modular chillers function exactly the same as the big guys, but each individual unit, which is combined with other modules to make a single larger machine, has its own dedicated power source and can operate independently. The computerized modules “talk” to each other and automatically turn on or off according to energy demands, providing a wide range of cooling capacity. “You’re only using what you need, which translates into big savings,” Meister says. “It was a no-brainer.” 

After soliciting bids, the board went with E4P Engineering, which began work in early February. To meet Plaza Tower’s energy demands, the 500-ton chiller is being replaced with 16 modules, each with a 30-ton capacity. Because of their size – each unit is roughly 4 feet square by 2 feet deep – installation is a relative breeze. “The modular units are small enough that you can actually bring them down in the elevator,” says Meister. 

The $940,000 project, which will be completed by mid-April, is being funded entirely by the co-op’s reserves. Once the system is up and running, Bright Power will help secure a rebate from Con Edison. “The amount will be based on the projected energy savings, but it could be as much as $40,000,” says Darren Johnson, the company’s senior account manager for cooperatives and condos.

Plaza Tower isn’t the only one of Meister’s properties that has decided to go greener by going modular. At 201 E. 77th St., a 19-story, 90-unit property built in 1965, the co-op is swapping out its original 180-ton chiller for six modular units, a $800,000 project that is being paid for through a shareholder assessment. “This was a slightly different job, because there wasn’t adequate electricity in the basement, so we had to coordinate with ConEd to bring additional lines into the building,” says Meister. “But the installation is just finishing up, ahead of schedule.”

Jim Trynosky, executive vice president of Falcon Engineering, the co-op’s energy and engineering consultant, says modular chilling systems are a smart option for any building with an aging workhorse. “The old chillers have long, useful lives, but when it comes time to replace them, modular chillers can not only be cost effective, but offer improved performance and reduced maintenance costs.” Adds Meister: “Boards always need to look for ways to cut energy use and save money. This is the type of technology to help you do it.”

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