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Strategies for Maximizing Refrigeration System Efficiencies

Andre Patenaude | Director – Solutions Integration,

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solution’s Business

For many supermarket operators, reducing energy spend in their refrigeration systems is a key sustainability objective. But as most refrigeration systems drift from their original commissioned states, they inevitably lose efficiencies over time. In a recent RSES Journal article, I explored some of the root causes of this all-too-common problem and presented proven strategies for maximizing refrigeration system efficiencies.

There is often a domino effect that contributes to declining refrigeration efficiencies: setpoints are changed, mechanical subcooling strategies become ineffective, condensing pressures increase, and overall system energy consumption rises. At the same time, maintaining consistent case temperatures can become a constant struggle — often causing the reliability of these systems to suffer.

But this inefficient, unreliable state neither has to be your status quo, nor does it necessarily mean that it is time to replace your existing refrigeration system. In fact, there are a variety of tools and techniques for taking back control of your supermarket refrigeration system.

Shore up your liquid subcooling strategy

Refrigerant (liquid) subcooling results in denser liquid — which packs more BTUs per pound and maximizes system capacity and performance — and is a strategy utilized within many supermarket refrigeration systems. But because this approach is based on design parameters that account for the hottest anticipated day of the year, it can present challenges in other weather conditions. In some regions, this can represent more than 95 percent of the time

As ambient temperatures drop, the condenser operates more efficiently, thus decreasing the subcooling load requirements. The net effect is that the plate heat exchanger — which acts as an evaporator to cool the refrigerant — is oversized for most of the year. And as the system tries to adapt to changing weather conditions, the liquid quality output can become more erratic and cause flash gas in liquid lines, which can starve the evaporator.

To manage this load variability, system designers often use electronic evaporator pressure regulators (EPRs), which must be properly set to maintain ideal liquid-out temperatures. If not, these conditions can combine to create a perpetual state of fluctuation as the system “hunts” for the liquid quality for which it was designed, resulting in a myriad of system issues with the potential to negatively impact energy efficiency and reliability.

Install electronic expansion valves

Replacing a system’s mechanical expansion valves with electronic expansion valves (EEVs) is the key to helping operators overcome these subcooling challenges and restoring system efficiencies. EEVs are typically located at the inlet of the subcooler to control and modulate the refrigerant flow of the heat exchanger much more effectively, regardless of whether it is the hottest or coldest day of the year. As temperatures and liquid quality fluctuate, EEVs allow a system to run at maximum capacity and deliver the performance advantages for which it was originally designed:

  • Higher BTUs per pound of circulating refrigerant
  • Reduced liquid line size and charge reduction
  • Improved efficiency for energy savings

Note: for optimum control of a subcooling heat exchanger equipped with an EEV, consider using a variable-capacity compressor like the Copeland™ scroll digital compressor or adding a variable-frequency drive (VFD) to a Copeland Discus™ compressor to provide a balanced load approach.

Raise system suction pressures

The higher the system suction pressures are, the lower the associated compressor power consumption will be — particularly in lower-temperature refrigeration systems. For every 1 PSI increase in suction pressure, a compressor’s energy efficiency ratio (EER) is improved by approximately 2%.

Electronic evaporator pressure regulators (EPRs) are commonly used in centralized racks to maintain evaporator temperatures within various suction groups and optimize the suction pressure to its highest possible point based on case demand. To save additional energy, technicians may “float the suction pressure” by allowing it to rise slightly when the lowest temperature case is satisfied. This can only be achieved if the EPRs are properly set.

Low-condensing operation

Another way to offset the inefficiencies of a system designed for the hottest day of the year is to implement low-condensing operation (aka “floating the head pressure”). Instead of artificially keeping head pressures near 105 °F with the use of head pressure control valves, EEVs installed at cases allow systems to float head pressures down as the temperatures drop — typically maintaining temperatures at 10–20 °F above the ambient temperature.

On average, systems can achieve 15–20% EER improvements on compressor performance for every 10 °F decrease in head pressure. EEVs are designed to modulate with fluctuations in capacity and liquid quality to digest flash gas and control superheat. Using this technique, supermarket operators can reliably float system pressures to 70 °F or lower and achieve:

  • 15–20% EER improvements on compressor performance
  • Increased compressor capacity for faster pull-down rates
  • Lower pressure, which reduces system stress
  • Higher system reliability, which lowers total cost of ownership (TCO)

Give your system an efficiency boost

Emerson provides the tools, technologies and expertise to help operators implement efficient liquid subcooling and low-condensing pressure strategies. Our EX series EEVs feature a patented ceramic gate port design that can manage a wide range of liquid quality and condensing pressures — and deliver precise refrigerant control via variable-capacity modulation from 10–100%.

The companion EXD-SH1 or SH2 superheat controller regulates evaporator superheat to optimize system performance, regardless of ambient conditions. Its integrated display allows operators to check a variety of system conditions, such as superheat, percentage of valve opening, pressure and temperature values.

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