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Supermarket Refrigeration –System Changes, Present and Future

From an outsider’s perspective, the commercial refrigeration industry will not seem fast-paced compared to what is being read and heard about in other industries, like at Silicon Valley for example. However, the landscape is changing and will continue to change based on many key factors.

Knowing what the potential changes are and understanding why they are taking place will help HVACR professionals embrace the developments and be better equipped to handle them in the field.

Forces driving changes include …

…Cost

Many factors are at play as to why commercial refrigeration systems and refrigerants are changing. Foremost on retailers’ minds is always cost. Cost can come in many forms: first cost, energy cost and maintenance cost. Retailers must take a balanced approach to these cost drivers to get the overall best value, and the answers can be very different depending on facility location.

…Regulations

Regulations are also driving the market. Refrigerants that deplete the upper atmosphere ozone (such as R-22) and refrigerants that have relatively high GWP values (such as R-404A with a GWP of 3,922) have and will be looked at by agencies like the EPA. In order to curtail usage, other regions in the world have already implemented tighter leak requirements and taxes on the use of certain classes of refrigerant gases that are detrimental to the environment. Regulations will also impact system efficiency levels. A/C systems have been regulated for years with little energy requirements given for commercial refrigeration. Smaller systems (such as ice machines) have ENERGY STAR ratings, but bigger rack systems found in grocery stores have not been subject to energy standards. Regulations such as California’s Title 24 will change that over time.

…Sustainability

Also, there is a significant movement for retailers to become green and develop sustainability measures. The role of refrigeration is very prominent in terms of energy consumption and emissions that could potentially escape to the atmosphere, two very important sustainability measures. Today, retailing organizations may have a vice president of sustainability, a role that would not have existed 10–15 years ago. Companies release sustainability reports and join voluntary groups, such as the EPA’s GreenChill Partnership. This type of visibility leads to an increased interest in measuring results. The measuring of results leads to new programs to achieve desired outcomes.

To view a more in-depth discussion of the changes occurring in commercial refrigeration, including the introduction of electronics and the migration toward natural refrigerants, click on the following link:  http://www.rses.org/assets/rses_journal/0812_Supermarket.pdf.

After reading the article, I’d enjoy hearing from you. Has your company taken the plunge into natural refrigerants? Are you following the recent trend toward distributed and secondary loop systems? If you’re a contractor, have you experienced the benefits of the advanced electronics in troubleshooting problems?

Rajan Rajendran, Ph.D
Vice President, Engineering Services and Sustainability
Emerson Climate Technologies

Based upon article in RSES Journal

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