In Focus: Smaller boats wanting air con adds to market challenges

The marine industry presents unique challenges when it comes to refrigeration and air conditioning systems, says Chris Feibusch, director at Penguin Refrigeration, especially as smaller sailboats are now embracing the ‘comfort of home’ onboard.

“Interestingly,” says Feibusch, (pictured below), “having an air conditioning system onboard used to be most common with bigger, more expensive motorboats and commercial vessels. However, owners of much smaller boats are now demanding air conditioning, even down to sailboats as small as seven metres.

“Space is always a precious commodity on vessels, which poses a challenge for refrigeration and air conditioning systems. Manufacturers continue to innovate, designing ever more compact, space-saving solutions whilst improving, or at least without compromising performance. In response, we provide bespoke air conditioning and refrigeration systems tailored to individual, unique consumer requirements to offer off-the-shelf custom solutions.”

One of those improving performance is Climma. “On the air conditioning side, innovations such as Climma’s water-cooled inverter driven chiller system is an industry game-changer, eliminating start load and reducing power consumption by up to 30 per cent.”

Feibusch says that Penguin’s products are already moving across to more environmentally friendly refrigerants and the push for greater efficiency is driven by environmental consciousness and the demand to reduce the power demands on vessels’ systems.

“Innovations are coming all the time, but tend to be continuous and incremental. The efficiency of modern DC compressor fridges and the improvement in solar and battery technology means that a vessel’s leisure or house battery can be kept topped up with a modest solar array to keep the fridge running indefinitely when off-grid.”

Other innovations include Veco (Climma’s parent) currently developing an advanced centralised Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) management interface system called Veco Hub. This integrates with all industry-standard multi-function displays as well as with smartphones and tablets.

Veco is enjoying success with its chilled water systems, collaborating with the major Italian boatbuilders, including Azimut Benetti, Ferretti, Sessa International, Cantiere del Pardo and Sanlorenzo and through Penguin Refrigeration with the major British boatbuilders; Sunseeker, Princess, Fairline and Oyster and beyond in Europe.

Feibusch says that seawater cooling or keel coolers, are being recommended for vessels operating in warmer waters of Southern Europe or the Tropics. Keel coolers dissipate heat drawn from the fridge into the sea via a sintered bronze heat exchanger, bolted through the hull.

This offers 30 per cent better efficiency when compared to an air-cooled condenser, he says and notes that all of Penguin’s onboard air (or fan) cooled fridges systems use aluminium-finned condensers, which are more expensive to manufacture but offer far great cooling efficiency (and thus longer-term savings).

Penguin Refrigeration is predominantly focused on the UK market, but by the nature of the business and the transience of the vessels and vehicles that its products are installed on, the support services extend further afield across Europe and around the world.

Due to the challenges created by Brexit of operating internationally, the company has recently incorporated an EU-based business in Ireland, Penguin EU, enabling it to support its customers in the EU much more effectively.

“Uncertainty with the economy is a challenge for most businesses, along with rising costs and the burden of the extra duties and administration that have arisen as a result of Brexit. Having said that, for Penguin, there are opportunities across the market, and the increasing demand for better efficiency plays into the company’s hands,” says Feibusch.

Penguin Refrigeration is the exclusive UK importer of Vitrifrigo, Frigoboat and Climma refrigeration and air conditioning products.

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