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12

th
International Conference on Sustainable Energy technologies (SET-2013)
26-29
th
August, 2013
Hong Kong

Evaluation of a Ground Source Heat Pump System in
A Net-Zero Energy Office Building

Su Huang, Zhenjun Ma*, Paul Cooper

The Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC), Faculty of Engineering, University of Wollongong,
New South Wales, 2522, Australia

*
Corresponding Author: Email: Zhenjun@uow.edu.au

ABSTRACT
This paper presents the evaluation of the ground source heat pump (GSHP) system implemented in a net-zero energy office
building through detailed computer simulations. The building and system are currently undergoing final commissioning. The
system studied is a hybrid system which includes two identical GSHPs and one air source heat pump. The ground loop system
consists of three vertical borehole heat exchangers and twelve horizontal linear heat exchangers, which can either operate in
parallel or in series. In this study, a detailed simulation system representing the real hybrid GSHP system has been developed
based on the TRNSYS software platform. A parametric study has been performed for both horizontal linear heat exchangers and
vertical borehole heat exchangers to understand the effects of different design variables on system performance. The performance
of the GSHPs under different operating combinations of ground heat exchangers (i.e. parallel and series) has been evaluated
through comparison of the annual load balance within the vertical borehole heat exchangers and energy consumption of the
GSHPs. Potential solutions that could be used to solve the issue of potential load imbalance in the vertical borehole heat
exchangers over the course of a year are also discussed.

KEYWORDS: Ground Source Heat Pump; Office Building; Net-Zero Energy; Simulation; Operating Configuration;
Performance Evaluation.

1 INTRODUCTION
Increasing demand on conventional energy supplies, in conjunction with global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions from the
use of fossil fuels, has led to the rapid development of low energy systems for building heating and cooling applications [1-3].
Ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) with high energy efficiency and low greenhouse gas emissions have been recognized as
sustainable and environmentally friendly systems for heating and cooling of both residential and commercial buildings [4-5].
Reductions in energy consumption of 30-70% in the heating mode and 20-50% in the cooling mode can be achieved through proper
use of GSHPs to replace conventional air-conditioning systems [6-7]. GSHPs are gaining market share with an annual increase rate
of around 10% in recent years [8]. However, in spite of their popularity, the high installation cost, low market awareness, limitations
installation infrastructure and system design are the main challenges preventing the wide adoption of GSHP systems in buildings
[9]. In particular, the high installation cost (e.g. a 20-30% increase in system cost) makes the short-term economics unattractive
[5,9].
Over the last two or more decades, significant efforts have been made on the development of GSHPs in building applications and
various issues such as system design, capacity control and thermal performance optimization have been addressed in various
studies. For instance, Garber et al. [10] proposed a methodology to evaluate the financial risk involved in over-sizing of ground
heat exchangers. Michopoulos et al. [11] investigated the operation characteristics of a GSHP with a vertical ground heat
exchanger. Zogou and Stamatelos [12] presented the optimization of thermal performance of buildings integrated with GSHPs by
using TRNSYS. It was concluded that detailed simulations can allow more realistic system sizing and better assessment of the
effect of control settings and system characteristics. Wu et al. [13] examined the thermal performance of slinky heat exchangers
for the horizontal-coupled GSHP by using a 3D model. It was shown that the average COP of the horizontal-coupled GSHP was
2.5. A comprehensive review on the design of borehole heat exchangers for GSHPs can be found in Ref. [14]. Madain et al. [15]
compared the annual operational performance of GSHPs between the use of on/off control and variable speed control. The results
showed that variable speed control can achieve 5-30% energy savings as compared to that using on/off control. In order to
facilitate good design of GSHP systems, efforts have also been made on the development of effective design and energy
performance analysis tools. Michopoulos and Kyriakis [16] presented a new energy analysis tool for GSHPs based on the line
source approach by taking into account the major energy interactions between the system components and the effect of
temperature on the efficiency of heat pumps. Nagano et al. [17] proposed a design and performance prediction tool for GSHPs,
which can simulate hourly-based temperature variations in the ground. A summary of the major available tools used for design of
GSHPs with vertical heat exchangers can be found in Ref. [17]. These previous efforts have resulted in great improvement in
energy efficiency of GSHPs and led to continued increase in the number of installations and market share of GSHPs.
Many studies have indicated that an effective approach to decreasing the initial cost of GSHPs and at the same time to increasing
their operational performance is to employ integrated approaches in the design of GSHP systems [18]. For instance, Chen et al.
[19] experimentally studied the performance of a solar-assisted ground coupled heat pump system for space heating. The result
showed that solar-assisted heating process has significant effect on the improvement of borehole temperature and energy
12
th
International Conference on Sustainable Energy technologies (SET-2013)
26-29
th
August, 2013
Hong Kong

efficiency. Sayyadi and Nejatolahi [20] performed a thermodynamic and thermo-economic optimization of a cooling tower-assisted
GSHP in a multi-objective optimization process, in which a genetic algorithm was used as the optimization technique.
Ramamoorthy et al. [21] presented a system simulation approach to investigating various design alternatives for optimal sizing of
hybrid GSHP systems with a cooling pond as a supplemental heat rejecter. Pardo et al. [22] investigated the energy efficiency
improvement of ground coupled heat pump systems when combined with thermal storage and supported by an air to water heat
pump. The results from the simulations showed that the energy consumption can be reduced by 40% and 18% when the proposed
hybrid system is used, as compared to that using air to water heat pump systems and ground coupled heat pump systems,
respectively. The performance of a hybrid cooling system with a screw chiller and a GSHP was evaluated by Jeon et al. [23]. It
was shown that the COP of the GSHP was lower than that of a conventional chiller but the hybrid system is able to stably provide
required cooling at high load conditions. The above studies demonstrated that GSHP systems with reasonable integrated approaches
can allow the systems to operate efficiently. The payback periods for the residential applications using hybrid approaches typically
range from 5-15 years, and can be low as 2 years in the best locations based on building type, system design, operating parameters
and energy costs [24]. Because less expensive conventional systems replace a part of the expensive ground heat exchangers, the
hybrid system is more sustainable, affordable, cost effective and reliable, and thus can increase the rate of the deployment of
GSHP systems and create significant energy savings. However, most existing studies focused on small scale GSHP systems and
most GSHP units installed worldwide were in single domestic buildings.
This paper presents the performance evaluation of a hybrid GSHP system implemented in a net-zero energy office building at the
University of Wollongong through detailed computer simulations as the system is currently still under the test and commissioning
stage. The effects of major design variables on system performance are first investigated based on a detailed simulation platform
constructed. The performance of the GSHPs under different operating combinations of the ground heat exchangers (i.e. parallel
and series) are then evaluated through comparing the load balance in the vertical borehole heat exchangers and energy
consumption of the GSHPs. The potential solutions that can be used to solve the load imbalance in this system are discussed.
2 BUILDING/SYSTEM DESCRIPTION AND MODELLING
Building and System Description
The building concerned is a net-zero energy office building at the University of Wollongong, Australia. The total floor area of the
building is 2600 m
2
. The building forms part of a local initiative funded by the Australian Commonwealth Government that
focuses on the upgrading and retrofitting of existing buildings for sustainability. The building comprises two rectangular wings,
each with the long axis orientated east-west for optimal solar access and shading as shown in Fig. 1. The southern office wing is
a two-storey structure with the top floor as an open plan office and the ground floor includes an exhibition area, training room, two
single-storey multi-function laboratories and service areas. The second wing is a high-bay facility with flexible functional
capability, housing large-scale equipment and test facilities such as wind tunnels, an indoor environmental quality test facility, an
HVAC test facility, etc.


Fig. 1 A rendering of the building concerned.

Based on the optimized passive design principles, natural ventilation and careful equipment selection, the building will be an ultra-
low energy building. The building will be equipped with large PV arrays, small scale wind turbines, a PV-thermal system, a hybrid
ground source heat pump system, transpired solar collectors, green roofs and green IT systems. The hybrid ground source heat
pump system consists of an air-source heat pump and two identical water-to-water heat pumps to provide heating and cooling
necessary to maintain desired indoor thermal conditions. Both water-to-water heat pumps can provide 20% of total heating and
cooling demands of the building under the design conditions. As illustrated in Fig. 2, the two water-to-water heat pumps are
integrated with a ground loop system, which consists of three vertical borehole heat exchangers and a total of twelve horizontal
linear heat exchangers. Three vertical borehole heat exchanges can operate either in parallel or in series. The six horizontal linear
heat exchangers in the south side can only operate in parallel while the other six horizontal linear heat exchangers in the north side
are categorized into three groups, which can operate either in parallel or series. Such flexible design can allow us to
experimentally investigate the potential benefits due to the change of the design configurations of the ground heat exchangers to
12
th
International Conference on Sustainable Energy technologies (SET-2013)
26-29
th
August, 2013
Hong Kong

determine the best approach to operating the GSHP systems to achieve energy efficiency. Table 1 summarises the major
specifications of the heat pumps and ground heat exchangers used in this system.


Vertical
HE 3
Vertical
HE 1
Vertical
HE 2
Horizontal
HE 1
Water-to-Water
Heat Pump-1
Water-to-Water
Heat Pump-2
Air-to-Water
Heat Pump
Air Handling and
Distribution System
Building
Water Pump
Isolation Valve
Horizontal
HE 2
Horizontal
HE 3
Horizontal
HE 6
Horizontal
HE 4
Horizontal
HE 5
Horizontal
HE 7
Horizontal
HE 8
Horizontal
HE 9
Horizontal
HE 12
Horizontal
HE 10
Horizontal
HE 11
South
North


Fig. 2 Schematic of the hybrid system implemented.

Table 1. Specifications of the hybrid ground source heat pump system
Water to water heat pumps
Rated cooling capacity/power (kW/kW) 16.0/4.3
Rated heating capacity/power (kW/kW) 21.0/4.5
Air to water heat pump
Rated cooling capacity/power (kW/kW) 109.4/36.4
Rated heating capacity/power (kW/kW) 133.9/37.9
Vertical borehole heat
exchangers
Number of boreholes 3
Diameter of borehole (mm) 150
Depth of per borehole (m) 91
Horizontal linear heat
exchangers
Loop pitch (m) 2
Number of pipes 12
Length of per pipe (m) 125
Trench length (m) 17

Building and System Modelling/Simulation
The DesignBuilder energy simulation program was used to represent the real building to simulate building heating and cooling
loads. The weather data used was the RMY data for Sydney. Necessary inputs in the DesignBuilder simulation include detailed
descriptions of building envelope, floors and ceiling, design peak occupancy, lighting power, equipment power, and their
operation schedules, the set-points of indoor temperature and relative humidity, fresh air flow rate, infiltration, etc. As the building
studied is an office building, in the simulation, it was only occupied from 8.00am-18.00pm during the weekdays and the air-
conditioning system was not in operation during weekends and public holidays. Natural ventilation was applied when ambient
weather conditions can ensure good thermal comfort in buildings with the natural ventilation set-point temperature 2C lower than
the cooling set-point and 2C higher than the heating temperature. The building was simulated for one year (8760 hours).
Figure 3 illustrates the simulated hourly cooling loads (positive values in the figure) and heating loads (negative values) of the
building as well as ambient air conditions. It is seen that the peak cooling load and peak heating load of the building are 120 kW
and 81 kW, respectively. It is of note that the cooling demand in this office building is much higher than the heating demand,
which illustrates that the operation of ground heat exchangers may result in load imbalance within the vertical borehole heat
exchangers if the system is not well designed and controlled. It is also shown that there is a relatively large variation of the heating
and cooling loads of the building in different months over a year. Such large variations may provide great opportunities for
achieving energy savings through using advanced control and operation strategies.
12
th
International Conference on Sustainable Energy technologies (SET-2013)
26-29
th
August, 2013
Hong Kong

-45
-35
-25
-15
-5
5
15
25
35
45
-100
-50
0
50
100
150
0 730 1460 2190 2920 3650 4380 5110 5840 6570 7300 8030 8760
Building load
Dry-bulb temperature
Wet-bulb temperature
B
u
i
l
d
i
n
g

l
o
a
d

(
k
W
)
A
m
b
i
e
n
t

t
e
m
p
e
r
a
t
u
r
e

(

C
)
Time (hour)

Fig. 3 Weather profiles and simulated hourly-based building loads.
The hybrid GSHP system was simulated using the Transient Systems Simulation Program, TRNSYS platform. In the TRNSYS
Simulation Studio, the user can specify the components of the system and the way in which they are connected. Figure 4 shows the
schematic of the simulation system developed for the hybrid GSHP system, in which the major component models used are the
mathematical models provided in the standard TRNSYS library. The simulation system mainly consists of three parts, including A)
a simplified building load distribution system, B) a ground heat pump system and C) an air source heat pump system.
The major component models used are summarized in Table 2. The building load simulated by DesignBuilder is used as the inputs
in the TRNSYS simulation and serves as the working conditions of the hybrid GSHP system. The models for the water to water
heat pump and air to water heat pump were slightly modified by adding external files containing the part-load performance data
provided by the manufacturers. As the key focus of this study is on the ground loop system, the water pumps are considered as
constant speed although they are equipped with variable speed drivers. In the simulation, two sets of fluid diverters and mixers are
used for allocating the water flow rates in different subsystems.


Borehole GHX
Horizontal GHX-South
GHX
Horizontal GHX-North
Diverter-3
Mixing Valve
Diverter
Load Pump 1
Load Pump 2
Load Pump 3
Control
Flowstream
VP-1
Source Pump-3
Source Pump-2
Diverter-4 Mixer
Equa
Convert Power Consumption
Equa-2
Equa-3
HC
Load and control
Loadside
Flowrate&Energy
WWHP
Mixer-2
GHXHeat
GHXHeat-2
ASHP
Load
Time
WWHP-1
flowrate
WWHP-2
Diverter ratio
Power&Cap
GHXHeat-3
Sydney


Fig. 4 Illustration of TRNSYS simulation system.











C





A





B
12
th
International Conference on Sustainable Energy technologies (SET-2013)
26-29
th
August, 2013
Hong Kong

Table 2. Summary of major component models used
No Type Description
1 Type 997 Multi-level horizontal ground heat exchanger
2 Type 557 Vertical U tube heat exchanger
3 Type 515 Heating and cooling season controller
4 Type 647 Flow diverter
5 Type 649 Flow mixer
6 Type 110 Water pump
7 Type 655 Modified air source heat pump
8 Type 927 Modified water to water heat pump

3 RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Investigation of the Effects of Different Design Parameters on the Performance of GSHPs
The performance of GSHPs is dependent on a range of design parameters such as the depth and diameter of vertical borehole heat
exchangers, and operating parameters such as temperature settings, operation schedules, etc. Based on the simulation system
described above, a parametric study is performed in this study to investigate the influence of different design parameters on the
overall system performance of GSHPs in order to facilitate good system design and optimal operation. The tests are carried out
based on the selected typical working conditions as summarized in Table 3. As the heating condition has similar results (i.e.
trends) as that of the cooing condition, only the results from the cooling case are presented below in order to save page size.

Table 3. Selected typical test conditions
Condition
Dry-bulb temperature Wet-bulb temperature Building load Load Ratio
C C kW
Cooling 31 21 116 85
Heating 11 9 85 50
Effects of the borehole depth vertical borehole heat exchangers
Figure 5 shows the variations of the inlet and outlet water temperatures of the borehole heat exchangers, the COP of the GSHP, the
heat transfer rate per meter of borehole depth and the total heat transfer rate in the borehole heat exchangers with the changes of
the borehole depth. It can be found that the total heat transfer rate of the borehole heat exchangers increased while the outlet water
temperature from the borehole heat exchangers decreased when the borehole depth increased. This is because a deeper borehole
provides a longer path for the heat transfer between the borehole and the surrounding soil. The lower outlet water temperature
from the borehole heat exchangers results in a lower inlet water temperature to the heat pumps and a higher COP of the GSHPs in
the cooling case. It is also shown that the inlet water temperature to the borehole heat exchangers decreased while the temperature
different between the inlet and outlet water temperatures of the borehole heat exchangers increased. The heat transfer rate per
meter of borehole depth decreased with the increase of the borehole depth. Therefore, the performance benefits will be
counteracted when the borehole depth exceeds a certain value due to high drilling cost.


Fig. 5 Effects of the borehole depth.
Effects of the pipe diameter and shank space vertical borehole heat exchangers
The thermal interference between the inlet and outlet pipes within the borehole is an important factor to be considered when
designing an underground heat exchanger for GSHP applications. As shown in Fig. 6, the COP of the GSHPs, the total heat
transfer rate of the borehole heat exchangers and the heat transfer rate per meter of the borehole depth increased with the increase
of the pipe diameters and shank space. The larger pipe diameter provides a larger heat exchange surface between the fluid and
pipe, leading to an increased performance of the GSHPs due to the lower inlet water temperature to heat pumps. The larger shank
space results in less interaction between the adjacent pipes, and thus the better performance of the GSHPs. However, the shank
12
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International Conference on Sustainable Energy technologies (SET-2013)
26-29
th
August, 2013
Hong Kong

space has limited impacts on the system performance as the variation of the COP of the GSHPs is small when increasing the shank
space.

Fig. 6 Effects of the pipe diameter and shank space.
Effects of the grout material vertical borehole heat exchangers
The grout material also influences the performance of the borehole heat exchangers. Fig. 7 shows the performance variation of the
GSHPs and the heat transfer rate within the borehole heat exchangers when changing the thermal conductivity of the grout
materials. Increasing the thermal conductivity of the grout materials allows greater heat fluxes along the borehole wall, resulting in
a slightly increased COP of the heat pumps. However, the COP of the heat pumps remains almost constant when the thermal
conductivity of the grout material is larger than 1.47 W/mK in this case studied.


Fig. 7 Effects of the grout material.
Similar simulations have also been performed for the horizontal linear heat exchangers to analyze the effects of the pipe length,
pipe diameter, separation space, and soil thermal conductivity on the heat transfer performance of the horizontal linear heat
exchangers and heat pumps. As the effects of the pipe length and diameters have similar trends as that of the vertical borehole heat
exchangers, the results are not provided here below.
Effects of the pipe separation distance - horizontal linear heat exchangers
The separation distance refers to the centerline to centerline distance between the two parallel pipes. The large separation distance
requires large trench areas. As shown in Fig. 8, the COP of the heat pumps first increased when the separation distance increased
from 0.2m to 0.6m and then kept relatively constant if further increasing the separation distance. The optimal separation distance
in this case is around 0.6m.

12
th
International Conference on Sustainable Energy technologies (SET-2013)
26-29
th
August, 2013
Hong Kong


Fig. 8 Effects of the pipe separation distance.
Effects of the soil thermal conductivity - horizontal linear heat exchangers
Figure 9 shows the variations of the system performance when changing the soil thermal conductivity. With the increase of the
thermal conductivity, both the COP of the heat pumps and the total heat transfer rate of the horizontal linear heat exchangers
increased due to the decreased outlet water temperature from the horizontal linear heat exchangers in the cooling case. This is
because the higher soil thermal conductivity results in better heat transfer characteristics of the ground, and thus increased
capability of the heat exchangers to reject the heat into the soil.

Fig. 9 Effects of the soil thermal conductivity.
The above results showed that the design variables have significant impacts on the overall system performance of the GSHPs. It is
therefore essential to optimise these variables systematically when designing a GSHP system in order to ensure good operational
performance.
Performance Comparison among Different Operating Configurations of the Ground Heat Exchangers
The configurations of the ground heat exchangers (i.e. parallel or series) may affect the performance of GHSPs. In this study, a
performance comparison among different configurations of the vertical borehole heat exchangers and horizontal linear heat
exchangers is performed based on one whole year simulation using the data presented in Fig. 3. Table 4 summarizes the four
different scenarios simulated in this study and the results are summarized in Table 5, in which the power consumption of GSHPs
did not include the power consumption of the water pumps. In the simulation, the total water flow rate in the ground loop system
kept constant while the water flow rates in the borehole heat exchanges and horizontal linear heat exchangers in the south and
north were estimated based on the subsystem pressure flow balances when changing the system configurations. It is worthwhile to
note that the results presented in Table 5 mainly focuses on the borehole heat exchangers as the load imbalance within the
borehole heat exchangers is a critical issue when designing GSHPs.

Table 4. Four scenarios simulated
Scenarios
Borehole heat
exchangers
Horizontal linear heat
exchangers
South North
1 Parallel Parallel Parallel
2 Parallel Parallel Series
3 Series Parallel Parallel
4 Series Parallel Series
12
th
International Conference on Sustainable Energy technologies (SET-2013)
26-29
th
August, 2013
Hong Kong



Table 6. Summary of the annual simulation results for different operating configurations
Scenarios
Max. outlet
water temp
from boreholes

Min. outlet
water temp
from boreholes

Average
COP of
GSHPs
Power
consumption
of GSHPs
Total heat
rejected into
the vertical
loop
Total heat
absorbed from
the vertical
loop
Load
imbalance
ratio in the
vertical loop
C C - kWh MJ MJ %
1
34.54 13.07 3.71 7406.64
27975 4064
0.855
2
34.96 13.02 3.69 7453.01
28901 4165
0.856
3
32.94 13.27 3.76 7323.35
25037 3735
0.851
4
33.15 13.20 3.74 7361.11
26085 3843
0.853

Where load imbalance ratio is defined as in Eq. (1)

) , ( / ) (
absorb reject absorb reject
Q Q MAX Q Q
(1)

The positive indicates that the total heat rejected into the vertical loop is higher than the total heat absorbed, which often occurs
in cooling-dominated buildings, and vice verse.
From Table 6, it can be found that Scenario 3 gives the best results with higher annual average COP of the GSHPs and less load
imbalance as compared to the other three scenarios. Due to higher cooling demands of the building, more heat was rejected into
the vertical loop resulting in serious load imbalance in all four different scenarios. Fig. 10 illustrates the annual borehole storage
temperature variations. The borehole storage temperature refers to the average temperature of the ground in a specified storage
volume. As shown in Fig. 10, the borehole storage temperature first increased when more heat was rejected into the vertical loop.
The storage temperature reached around 20.85C in April (i.e. Scenario 2). The storage temperature then decreased due to the
absorption of the heat from the ground during the winter heating periods and then increased again due to the requirement of the
cooling of the building from October. After one year operation, the borehole storage temperature increased by 0.4-0.5C as
compared to the initial temperature. Among these four scenarios, Scenario 3 has the lowest temperature variation, which is
consistent with the results shown in Table 5.
19.9
20.0
20.1
20.2
20.3
20.4
20.5
20.6
20.7
20.8
20.9
0 730 1460 2190 2920 3650 4380 5110 5840 6570 7300 8030 8760
Time (hour)
Scenario 1 Scenario 2
Scenario 3 Scenario 4
B
o
r
e
h
o
l
e

S
t
o
r
a
g
e

T
e
m
p
e
r
a
t
u
r
e

(

C
)


Fig. 10 Hourly borehole storage temperature variation.
From the above results, it is shown that the load imbalance is quite serious in this building due to higher cooling demand than the
heating demand. The proper methods should therefore be employed to solve the load imbalance to ensure the GSHPs with good
operational performance during the whole life service period. One of the possible solutions for this hybrid system could be the
optimal sequence control of GSHPs and the air source heat pump through reducing the operating hours of the vertical borehole
heat exchangers during the cooling seasons. Our future study will address this issue.
4 CONCLUSIONS
In this paper, the effects of the key design parameters on the performane of both vertical borehole heat exchangers and horizontal
linear heat exchangers implemented in a net-zero energy office building were investigated using a detailed simulation platfrom
developed by in TRNSYS. The building heating and cooling loads simulated by using DesignBuilder were used as the inputs and
served as the working conditions in the TRNSYS simulation. The simulation results based on typical working conditions showed
that the optimisation of the key design variables, such as pipe diameter, pipe depth, shank space, etc., is essential to achieve good
operational performance of GSHPs.
The simulation results also showed that the change of the operating configuraitons of the ground heat exchangers (i.e. in parallel or
in series) will affect the performance of GSHPs and load balance in the vertial borehole heat exchangers. The borehole storage
12
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International Conference on Sustainable Energy technologies (SET-2013)
26-29
th
August, 2013
Hong Kong

temperature was predicted to increase by 0.4-0.5C after one year operation in the case building studied as compared to the initial
temperature. However, the change of the operating configuration of the ground heat exchangers has only a limited effect on the
performance of the GSHPs. This study also demonstrated that detailed simulations can allow for more realistic system sizing and
better assessment of the effects of system characteristics as they can provide an excellent virtual platform to simulate different
senarios easily.
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