For more than a decade, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) GreenChill Advanced Refrigeration Partnership program has worked with supermarkets across the country to help them implement “greener” refrigeration strategies. In our next E360 Webinar, Tom Land, manager of the program, will present findings from GreenChill’s recent report examining 10 years of supermarket data trends. Join us on Thursday, June 20 at 2 p.m. EDT/11 a.m. PDT for this informative update.
As we all know, the supermarket industry is experiencing a significant transition in its approach to refrigeration. Global, federal and regional environmental regulations have mandated the use of more environmentally friendly refrigeration alternatives. At the same time, many supermarket retailers are being driven by corporate sustainability objectives as well as market pressures to implement more sustainable practices in all their operations. The net result is an industry that is in varying degrees of conversion, from legacy refrigeration systems to new alternatives that do not rely on ozone-depleting refrigerants and offer lower global warming potential (GWP) and improved energy efficiency.
Since launching in 2007, the EPA’s GreenChill program has partnered with companies representing nearly one-third of U.S. supermarkets. Its goals are to reduce refrigerant emissions and decrease their negative impacts on the environment. To date, more than 350 individual stores have met GreenChill’s stringent certification criteria by demonstrating their commitment to environmentally friendlier commercial refrigeration systems with minimal leaks.
Because of its unique position, the GreenChill program is a microcosm for understanding larger refrigeration trends in the food retail industry — as well as providing insights into how companies are responding to increasing environmental mandates. In our next E360 Webinar, which will take place on Thursday, June 20 at 2 p.m. EDT/11 a.m. PDT, Tom Land, manager of the EPA’s GreenChill program, will report on the 10-year data trends gathered from companies participating in the program.
Attendees will learn:
Emissions and refrigerant leak rates of refrigeration systems
Types of refrigerants installed and emerging system architectures
Technology innovations and refrigerant transition trends in GreenChill-certified stores
This blog summarizes an article from ACHR NEWS, entitled “Refrigeration Retrofits Offer ‘Cool’ Savings for Supermarkets.” Click here to read the article in its entirety.
The commercial refrigeration system is the biggest energy user in supermarkets, accounting for about 40 to 60 percent of electricity consumption, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For food retailers, getting energy consumption under control is a top priority, and the refrigeration industry has stepped in with new, higher-efficiency equipment and technologies, such as advanced monitoring and control via the internet of things (IoT). However, for many retailers, virtually all their equipment is aging, and buying new equipment and systems across the board would be prohibitively expensive. But there is another path to saving a considerable amount of energy: targeted retrofits or upgrades to their existing systems.
Some energy-saving modifications can be simple and obvious, such as adding doors to cases. But at a recent Emerson E360 Forum, I explained how a systematic approach to retrofits and upgrades can identify savings throughout a store’s entire refrigeration infrastructure, particularly older, energy-demanding direct expansion (DX) centralized systems. It is a six-step process that reveals the primary causes of energy loss and, step by step, proposes energy-saving retrofits and upgrades to your system that can systematically reduce energy costs without breaking the bank.
Conduct a baseline energy audit throughout the store by installing energy-monitoring equipment. These sensors help you analyze the existing energy signature of the entire store before you make any adjustments or retrofits, and will also be invaluable for future temperature monitoring and control to ensure food safety and quality.
Recommission your existing equipment to factory specifications. This may include adjusting setpoints, superheat, suction pressure and other settings. In the process, any broken components can be repaired. This one step alone can result in energy savings of 18 percent or more.
Upgrade your HVAC system. Ambient store temperatures are major stressors on refrigeration systems. Consider upgrading rooftop units and adding demand-controlled ventilation and humidity controls. Integrating the rooftop units with the refrigeration system in the store is another option, creating a self-contained ecosystem that balances ambient and refrigeration temperatures for significant energy savings.
Upgrade lighting and other renewables. Adding modern lighting technology lowers temperatures. Installing doors onto units lowers energy losses. Electronic case controls and expansion valves (EEVs) fine-tune equipment temperatures, while upgrading to electronically commutated (EC) motors lowers electricity consumption while improving equipment efficiency.
Perform condition-based maintenance. Once you’ve migrated to these capital upgrades, it’s important to step up your regular maintenance intervals to continue your gains in efficiency and cost savings.
With these targeted retrofits and upgrades, you can systematically make your centralized DX system more effective in maintaining food quality and safety while simultaneously uncovering efficiencies that can result in significant savings.
Meeting the demands of emergent small-format supermarkets requires a new approach to — or adaption of existing — refrigeration architectures. This blog is based on a recent article that discusses available options. Read the full article here.
One of the biggest trends shaping the food retail industry is the shrinking store footprint. Instead of building large mega centers that once dominated the landscape, today’s retailers are opting to extend their brands into smaller stores, typically in densely populated areas. The small-format trend is part of a larger evolution — one that emphasizes high-quality, fresh, perishable offerings while appealing to consumer desire for more convenience.
Food retailers that are embracing these changes must also evaluate how their approaches to refrigeration architectures and controls will also need to adapt. Fortunately, there is no shortage of available options to help operators make this transition.
Scale down for “centralized” familiarity A traditional big-box supermarket has more than 100 cases (a mix of medium- and low-temperature cases) supported by centralized refrigeration racks and controls designed to optimize large systems of this type. If you shrink these systems down for smaller formats with less merchandise, it stands to reason that you may not need as many racks. With stores shrinking from more than 100,000 to less than 20,000 square feet, they simply won’t need the same refrigeration horsepower.
In many cases, operators may still want to use centralized architectures for both medium- and low-temperature cases, but appropriately scaled down to suit the small format. Often, we’re able to design a system with one rack to manage medium- and low-temperature needs. Since it’s a much smaller centralized system to support fewer case lineups, it has much shorter refrigeration lines running out to the cases.
From a system controls standpoint, this smaller centralized architecture isn’t drastically different, so retailers can achieve relatively the same look and feel in both large and small store formats — while also providing the flexibility to scale across the full spectrum of store sizes.
Explore “distributed” efficiencies
While distributed refrigeration systems have been preferred in large supermarkets in Europe and other global regions, they are also well-suited for the small-format emergence in the U.S. Distributed architectures come in different formats and offer a cost-effective refrigeration strategy for smaller stores. Preferred distributed architectures include:
“Self-contained” cases (i.e., a completely integrated refrigeration system within the case); also provide spot-merchandizing flexibility
Modular refrigeration systems capable of supporting small lines of cases sharing similar characteristics
Distributed architectures also have a greater impact on the way controls are set up and utilized. In a distributed scenario, electronic controllers are installed at the refrigeration cases. Additional sensors are typically required to capture data, allow for better control, and support remote troubleshooting activities.
Standardize your footprint
When adding smaller-format stores to an enterprise network, it may not be in your best interest to introduce a completely new refrigeration and controls platform. For retailers with multi-site networks of large- and small-format stores, it’s especially important to select refrigeration architectures and control platforms that provide a standardized view.
When evaluating refrigeration options, look for platforms that support the evolution of internet of things (IoT) in refrigeration and facility management. These systems represent the next generation of operational efficiencies by offering cloud connectivity, predictive maintenance and advanced multi-site management software.
At the E360 Forum in Houston last fall, Nik Rasskazovskiy, director of business development for ClearFlow Energy Finance, and I discussed the role of energy services companies (ESCOs) in helping grocery operators achieve and sustain long-term energy savings with end-to-end solutions. We shared our insights and experiences, as well as best practices and real-world case studies. Read more below, then view the full E360 Forum presentation.
According to Progressive Grocer Magazine, food retail is an almost $700 billion industry. Operating on razor-thin margins (generally a little more than 1 percent and only seeming to get slimmer every year), the industry is always on the lookout for new ways to cut costs and boost profitability.
Already making a considerable positive impact on the bottom line in other industries, ESCOs can offer grocery operators a new opportunity to reduce their energy spend — and increase profits.
Reducing energy spend is already a key objective for supermarket operators. ESCOs offer a systematic way to implement sustainable, long-term efficiency plans across their fleet with minimal risk or initial out-of-pocket expense.
How does it work?
ESCOs are in the business of developing, designing, funding and ultimately building turnkey solutions that save energy, reduce energy costs, and decrease operations and maintenance costs at their customers’ facilities.
ESCOs actually guarantee their clients a specific level of energy cost savings from the proposed project. They are subsequently compensated via the actual performance of the project, earning a percentage of the overall energy savings dollars for an agreed upon length of time. At the end of the term, the client keeps the savings for perpetuity.
In the presentation, I said, “The opportunities are real and the savings are real. We’re not doing anything that is really groundbreaking. This is not new technology. This is proven technology that you can actually utilize and implement in your systems. The ESCO part means that there’s no upfront cash necessary. We’re now in a position to provide this as a turnkey solution. We can work with your preferred equipment supplier and your preferred contractor, without needing any money, so you’re cash flow positive from day one.” And I meant every word of it.
The first step in your journey to energy efficiency: establishing a baseline
To identify savings opportunities, you must first fully understand your current energy consumption. Fortunately, today’s device-level power monitoring technologies offer real-time insights into your control systems and can help create “power profiles” by tracking usage across a wide range of temperatures and conditions.
Beginning from that baseline, the ESCO team works with food retailers to conduct comprehensive building and systems audits to identify opportunities for sustainable, long-term energy efficiency upgrades. This can take the form of refrigeration upgrades, variable frequency drives (VFDs), new cases or case controls, HVAC and demand control ventilation, and even renewable technologies if they make sense.
A proven process that’s yielded positive results, the ESCO methodology is sound and straightforward:
Building system audit completed — opportunities identified, target savings established
Client and ESCO enter into guaranteed, performance-based energy savings performance contract
ESCO secures financing
Project is built and commissioned
Ongoing monitoring and verification ensure that target efficiency savings are being met
Lender is repaid from savings
At the end of the term, the client keeps all savings
“It’s really a win-win situation,” noted Rasskazovskiy, who’s successfully navigated the financial end of projects across multiple industries. “Once the ESCO organizes everything, implements the project and the savings start trickling in, there’s a management process that verifies that the actual savings have been achieved. Those savings are shared between the end customer and the ESCO to pay out all the services costs, including financing. After the term of the contract is done, the customer is left with the same equipment and gets to enjoy 100 percent of the savings going forward.”
To learn more about ESCOs and the retail food industry, including real-world savings examples, watch the video here.
It’s Earth Day, which means we should all take a minute to reflect on how we can do our part to make the planet a greener place. In the world of commercial refrigeration, environmental initiatives and sustainability best practices typically focus on limiting the harmful effects of hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) and hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants. When these refrigerants leak into the atmosphere via direct emissions, their environmental impacts can be measured in terms of ozone depletion potential (ODP) and global warming potential (GWP).
But when considering the total equivalent warming impact (TEWI) of commercial refrigeration systems, direct emissions are only part of the equation. TEWI also considers indirect impacts, or the greenhouse gases generated from the energy consumed to run these systems — estimated to represent as much as 95 percent of the total climate impact. At Emerson, we take both energy efficiency and refrigerant GWP into consideration to evaluate the full lifecycle climate performance (LCCP) of a system and its fluids.
Montreal Protocol to complete R-22 phaseout
Today, most global refrigerant regulations are focused on phasing down high-GWP HFCs. But it’s important to remember that these activities have a precedent that’s more than three decades old. In 1987, the Montreal Protocol treaty aimed to phase out ozone-depleting substances (ODS), such as the commonly used HCFC, R-22. This global treaty was since ratified by 197 countries, including the United States, Canada and Mexico, all of whom have followed its recommended phaseout schedule.
The next step in this process will take place in 2020, when the production and import of R-22 will no longer be allowed under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act. It may come as a surprise to some, but there are still untold operators with older refrigeration systems that are currently charged with R-22. Unlike smartphones and other commodities that we change or upgrade every year, commercial refrigeration equipment can have a lifespan of 20 to 30 years. This phaseout will likely lead to an increase in system retrofits in the near term, especially as operators exhaust their supplies of R-22.
Thankfully, there’s a good deal of evidence that since the removal of ozone-depleting substances from the environment began, the ozone layer is on the mend. Some estimates state that the ozone hole above Antarctica could close by the 2060s.
HFCs targeted for global warming potential
As the HCFC phaseout began decades ago, the industry transitioned to HFCs with very low ODP. Unfortunately, many of these have since been discovered to have varying degrees of GWP. In fact, the most common HFC used in commercial refrigeration is R-404A, which has a GWP of 3,922 and is considered on the high end of the GWP scale. It’s no surprise then that it was among the first refrigerants to be targeted for phasedown under the EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) rules 20 and 21.
But per the 2018 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals, the EPA no longer has the authority to regulate the use of refrigerants based on their GWP under the framework of the Clean Air Act. While we expect the EPA to soon provide clarity on the future of its HFC initiatives, there currently is no federal mechanism through which the proposed phasedown of high-GWP refrigerants will take place.
In the meantime, California has adopted the original EPA SNAP framework into law, and as of January 1, R-404A and R-507A are no longer allowable in many new commercial refrigeration applications. California is just one of 23 states or territories in the U.S. Climate Alliance that are making commitments to enforce similar climate protection initiatives. Currently, this growing alliance represents half of the U.S. population and more than 50 percent of the national GWP.
Globally, the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol seeks to expand the treaty’s scope from just ozone protection to addressing global warming by phasing down short-lived climate pollutants, including HFCs. While this amendment has yet to be ratified by the United States, it has achieved the required ratification of 20 member countries to take force — including Canada and the United Kingdom, among others. For participating countries, the Kigali Amendment took effect on January 1.
Exploring the alternatives
Because regulatory variances occur from state to region to country, there are vastly different levels of environmental awareness throughout our industry. While operators in California are cognizant of the state’s efforts to phase down HFCs, there are many U.S. areas where transitioning to lower-GWP refrigerants isn’t as high of a priority.
Regardless, many top retailers have begun the process of exploring low-GWP refrigerant options as part of their sustainability objectives. Not only do they have retrofit plans in place, some are even trialing alternative refrigerant architectures in their stores — with hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs), HFO/HFC blends and natural refrigerants as leading options.
There are relatively minimal retrofit requirements when moving from R-404A to R-448A/R-449A — both A1 HFC/HFO blends — such as adding compressor cooling and other minor system changes. For a greenfield location or a complete system overhaul of an existing site, operators may consider one of many emerging low-GWP options, including:
Low-charge ammonia chillers on the roof
A2L (mildly flammable) blends in chillers on the roof and machine rooms
Distributed, small-charge systems with both A1 and A2L refrigerants
R-290 integrated cases outfitted with micro-distributed systems
CO2 transcritical and/or cascade systems using CO2 for low temperatures, and an HFO (or lower-GWP HFC) for medium temperatures
Refrigerant management best practices
As always, proper refrigerant management practices are important, regardless of the type of refrigerant used. Operators should start with a documented leak detection plan that includes the necessary tools and early-detection methods to identify and quickly respond to leaks. Leaks are not only bad for the environment; they also degrade refrigeration performance and system energy efficiencies.
With the new class of refrigerants, it’s especially important that technicians are trained to understand proper handling, charging and performance characteristics. In addition, as systems charged with higher-GWP HFCs eventually reach the end of their lifespans, it’s critical that service technicians follow proper recovery and disposal protocols.
Earth Day is a good time to reflect on the environmental progress our industry has made. At Emerson, we’ll continue to support sustainability objectives with compressors, components and systems that are both environmentally responsible and economically viable.
Commercial & Residential Solutions is a global innovator of energy-efficient heating, air conditioning and refrigeration solutions for residential, industrial and commercial applications. www.climate.emerson.com