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Posts from the ‘E360 Outlook’ Category

Trends Impacting the Supermarket Refrigeration Landscape

JasonBorn_Blog_Image Jason Born | Innovation Lead, The Helix
Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

During our E360 Forum last year in Houston, I led a Q&A panel discussion on the trends and market forces impacting the refrigeration landscape in food retail. Sharing their thoughts and insights were industry experts Derek Gosselin, director, technical product support, Hillphoenix; and Brad Thrasher, south central regional sales manager, Zero Zone. Below are some of their views on key trends; view the full E360 Forum presentation.

The Changing Face of Food Retail

Thirsty from wandering the aisles of your local grocery megamart? How about a craft beer break? Or maybe shopping for food just makes you hungry. Grocery shoppers today can virtually eat their way around the world as in-store food bazaars offer freshly prepared ethnic fare: Mexican “street food”, noodle bowls and wood-fired pizza. No time to shop? There’s always curbside pick-up of weekly grocery staples on your way home from work — just click and collect. And today, going small has never been bigger, with millennials and Generation Z flocking to urban areas and higher-density living. It’s no surprise that smaller-footprint grocery and food specialty stores are popping up in mixed-use buildings that were never intended to support things like complex refrigeration or HVAC systems.

Yes, the face of food retail is changing. And with this change comes a host of new opportunities (and challenges) for commercial refrigeration. I’ve summarized some of the key takeaways from this informative question and answer session.

On e-commerce, omnichannel and digital shopping

The first topic of discussion was the impact of the digital shopping trend. Today, more consumers are shopping for groceries online. I asked the panelists how brick-and-mortar retailers were responding.

Thrasher: I’ve seen some reports (FMI-Nielsen) that say that online grocery sales could grab up to 20 percent of the market. That seems pretty aggressive to me. But it’s definitely a rising trend. Traditional food retailers are responding by adding services like curbside pick-up. They are making home deliveries. You have to adapt to whatever direction the market is going.

Gosselin: For the retailers, it’s about what identifies them as different. Amazon is driving sales directly online. What can you offer to differentiate yourself, not only from online shopping, but the competition in your marketplace? Many stores have found success creating destination centers within their produce and other perimeter departments: food preparations, beer and wine tastings, restaurants, meals-to-go programs. That’s where the trends are going to be. And, of particular interest to everyone here: How do make sure you have appropriate refrigeration at these dynamic destination centers so that they can control your food quality and get it efficiently distributed?

On Click & Collect

Building on the idea of curbside service, I asked our panelists about the grocery pick-up lockers that are popping up everywhere and what that might mean for the future.

Gosselin: If you’re going to offer perishables as part of your curbside pick-up, you’re going to need to incorporate refrigeration. And it’s not just with in-store Click & Collect programs. I’ve also seen trends where retailers will place a portable refrigerated unit on your porch, so when they deliver fresh food or frozen items, they have a convenient and appropriately refrigerated location. Most consumers are probably not going to give you the key to their home.

Thrasher: Many stores are looking at self-contained or hybrid systems. Future refrigeration will need to be more flexible so that retailers can expand quickly and easily. If your curbside (pick-up) starts minimally but grows quickly, you’ll want a flexible, easy-to-implement solution so you can move quickly to serve customer demand.

Curbside pick-up is a relatively recent phenomenon. To add it as service, you have to dedicate and adapt more space in your store. But that doesn’t come without cost and questions. As we all know, for everything new you add in-store, something else will probably need to come out.

On the future

Before jumping into an audience Q&A, I asked the panelists how their retailers are dealing with change and some of the main factors driving their refrigeration decisions.

Thrasher: No one knows with certainty where the future will go. Some decisions will continue to be informed by technology and regulatory changes. And, certainly, costs always play a critical role. With refrigerants, for example, as regulations come, they may eliminate possibilities. It’s hard to go “all in” into a refrigerant when it could eventually be obsoleted, driving costs up for replacements. The same concept applies to system architectures.

Gosselin: How do you get in front of change? Do you go micro-distributed? Do you use natural refrigerants? What technologies will be developed in answer to changing rules?

For the end user, the challenge is not only what do they have to do to maintain their current fleet of stores, but what are they going to do for future stores so that they don’t add to the problems? And then how do they do that under a cost-effective and compliant refrigerant management program?

Thrasher: The bottom line is that there’s simply no one solution for everyone. Every retailer has a different set of objectives and challenges, influenced by regulations, technology and costs, but ultimately driven by the evolving needs of the markets they serve.

To take a deeper dive into our discussion, be sure to watch the full E360 Forum session.

 

Beyond Saving: What’s Next in Supermarket Power Management?

JamesJackson_Blog_Image James Jackson | Business Development Manager
Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

Last fall, a gathering of food retailers, industry professionals and energy experts converged in Houston for our latest E360 Forum. This daylong event was packed with the latest news, views and best practices on hot-button industry issues: regulations, emerging technologies and more.

Matt Smith, project manager for San Diego Gas & Electric’s Emerging Technologies Group, and I explored fresh ideas on what the future holds for supermarket power management. What follows are just a few of our observations.

Future of lighting rebates dim

Utility incentive programs for food retailers, in all markets, are changing. Lighting upgrades and retrofits fueled by rebate incentives were once low-hanging fruit for commercial and industrial consumers alike. However, laborious rebate application processes have contributed to waning interest and participation — especially among food retailers. Policy and regulations have also had an impact. As CFL and LED technologies become standard, rebates are no longer seen as necessary to incentivize adoption and won’t help utilities reach their energy-savings targets. Now energy providers are looking for other more innovative and targeted ways to incentivize efficiency.

Collaboration key to more customer-centric incentives

Admittedly, supermarkets are an underserved market for utility companies. There are simply not a lot of programs designed with the distinct needs of grocery retailers in mind. However, Matt thinks this is changing.

“We’re moving toward a more vertical approach on how we run programs in the sense that we’re serving a customer segment rather than a [category] like refrigeration … That will lead to programs that are better suited for specific customer segments like supermarkets or convenience stores.”

Matt went on to say that utilities want to hear from food retailers. They welcome the opportunities to connect and collaborate — either directly or virtually. Many offer cooperative bodies, online forums and other ways to engage. In California, utilities and other energy professionals have created the Emerging Technologies Coordinating Council (www.etcc-ca.com) as way to collaborate, develop and facilitate new and emerging technologies. Other regions offer similar resources and channels.

Pay-for-performance programs offer opportunities for efficiency and innovation

Pay-for-performance programs are another relatively recent energy-efficiency trend — one that doesn’t rely on rebates or other incentive-based equipment purchases. It allows participants to identify various energy-saving measures. Payments are made over time and are based on actual energy savings measured at the meter.

The beauty of pay-for-performance programs is that they can offer an integrated, more holistic approach to energy efficiency. Savings can come from building retrofits and equipment upgrades as well as from behavioral or operational and maintenance activities. These programs also shift the responsibility for energy savings from the utilities to energy-efficiency project implementers — and can be real incubators for innovation, efficiency and new technologies. Less prescriptive and more proactive, they offer greater opportunity for collaboration and invention.

Power markets and effective demand management

Many utilities are incentivizing commercial and industrial customers to participate in demand management/demand response programs. These are developed to cut electric consumption during peak times of the day when electricity is in high demand. Effective demand management rewards customers who can conserve when the grid is taxed the most. While a proven practice in other industries and abroad, these programs are not commonly employed among food retailers in the U.S., even though the opportunities and technologies are available.

The high usage of electricity by supermarkets makes it very attractive to participate in these programs. However, reliability and flexibility in a supermarket’s HVACR and energy requirements are absolutely essential for success. Technologies like today’s smart refrigeration systems and thermal storage are ways to optimize thermal potential by shifting electricity usage at expensive times to lower-rate periods.

More grocery retailers of today are looking hard at current HVACR systems and exploring strategies and technologies to shift energy consumption without compromising food safety. We’re excited about the possibilities.

As I shared, “Demand management is becoming a really big deal using supermarkets. I use the term ‘virtual power plant’ pretty easily in this conversation. If you’ve got a flexible store and can provide thermal storage, you could actually use that store as a virtual asset for the utility. [It creates] a kind of push and pull with the power demand … All this stuff is extremely exciting, especially in this segment or business.”

Demand management programs and today’s power markets represent a real opportunity to generate revenue by using thermal capacity, transforming your energy-eating equipment into an energy asset.

To learn more about any of these programs and the emerging technologies that are driving them, watch the full E360 Forum presentation.

Why Whole Foods Made R-290 Integral to its Refrigeration Strategy

 

AllenWicher Allen Wicher | Director, Foodservice Marketing

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

This blog summarizes an article from our most recent E360 Outlook, entitled Pioneering Natural Refrigeration.” Click here to read it in its entirety.

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When it comes to the use of natural refrigerants in commercial refrigeration, Whole Foods Market (WFM) is a true pioneer in the U.S. food retail space. Even before the recent wave of regulations prompted retailers to look for more eco-friendly alternatives, WFM was deploying sustainable refrigeration systems with the intent of reducing harmful environmental impacts and improving energy efficiencies. Today, 22 of its 465 stores utilize all-natural refrigerant systems, with most of them moving to the hydrocarbon R-290 (propane) for their self-contained cases.

According to Tristam Coffin, WFM’s director of sustainability & facilities for its Northern California region, refrigeration comprises roughly one-third of their total energy usage. Their commitment to moving to natural refrigerants arose out of a desire to lower energy consumption and reduce the potential for direct environmental impacts from refrigerant leaks.

But figuring out a natural solution for their self-contained cases presented a unique challenge for the company. When they first started looking for R-290 case manufacturers in 2013, AHT Cooling Systems USA was among the refrigeration equipment manufacturers offering R-290 units. AHT National Sales Manager Howell Feig said that developing R-290 products for the European market enabled AHT to help early adopters in the U.S.

Since 2013, WFM has deployed R-290 self-contained cases across the company’s entire network of stores. Currently, 50 to 60 stores per year are migrating to R-290 as replacements to HFC units, either in new stores or in new programs.

“While these units make up less than 10 percent of our overall refrigeration footprint, they have hit a home run for us in that they’re 10 percent more efficient in most instances, and they’re using a natural refrigerant,” Coffin said.

Both Feig and Coffin believe that the U.S. food retail industry is slowly shifting toward R-290 use in self-contained cases. From AHT’s perspective, Feig explained that early adopters like Whole Foods Market have served as a proof of concept for less progressive retailers. As a result, adoption has increased to the point where AHT will transition its entire equipment platform to R-290 by the end of this year.

The 150g charge limit of R-290 systems largely restricts its usage to these low-charge, self-contained units. While the standards governing the safe use of R-290 are currently under review, Feig and Coffin agreed that a charge limit increase would open new opportunities that aren’t currently possible. Raising the limit to 500g would allow R-290 to be used in open-door cases as well as walk-in coolers and freezers. This prospect could potentially even allow for a full-store solution of self-contained R-290 cases, which would be particularly advantageous in smaller urban locations where space constraints prevent the use of centralized racks.

More Food Retailers Opt for Natural Refrigerant Systems

AndrePatenaude_Blog_Image Andre Patenaude | Director, CO2 Business Development

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

This blog summarizes an article from our most recent E360 Outlook, entitled Natural Selection.” Click here to read it in its entirety.

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One of the most complex decisions food retailers have today is selecting which refrigerant will serve as the basis of future refrigeration platforms. While there are very few refrigerants that can deliver regulatory compliance and align with corporate sustainability goals, three natural options are at the top of this short list: carbon dioxide (CO2 or refrigerant name R-744); the hydrocarbon propane (refrigerant name R-290); and ammonia (NH3 or refrigerant name R-717).

In recent decades, as synthetic chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants were found to have either ozone depletion potential (ODP) or global warming potential (GWP), natural refrigerants have made their way back into the commercial refrigeration conversation — even being listed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as acceptable for use in most commercial refrigeration applications (subject to use conditions).

Make no mistake: these refrigerants are by no means perfect — each has its own caveats — but in terms of thermodynamic properties, operational efficiencies and eco-friendliness, natural refrigerants are often referred to as “future proof”.

Innovative installations

As modern refrigeration technologies continue to improve, equipment manufacturers are working closely with early adopters to develop innovative solutions. This has resulted in several creative natural refrigeration applications that belie their traditional uses — like ammonia being used in supermarket systems and CO2 playing a larger role in industrial process cooling.

Ammonia trials in food retail
In September 2015, the Piggly Wiggly supermarket company opened a new 36,000 square-foot store in Columbus, Ga., that utilizes an NH3/CO2 cascade system manufactured by Heatcraft Worldwide Refrigeration. The all-natural refrigerant system uses an ultra-low charge of ammonia (53 pounds) located away from occupied spaces (on the facility’s roof).

CO2 adoption in industrial cooling
In cold storage applications, where ammonia has been the preferred refrigerant for decades, companies are also seeking to lower ammonia charges. As older ammonia systems near replacement, many operators are determining the best option to expand their facility’s low-temperature capabilities. They’re accomplishing this by adopting NH3/CO2 cascade systems that not only utilize very low charges of ammonia, but also keep the R-717 circuit out of occupied spaces.

Propane in food retail
When major retailers like Target publicly announce their intentions to use only propane in their self-contained units, it’s an indication that the perceptions about the mainstream viability of R-290 are shifting. The smaller charge limits make R-290 a logical fit for Target’s smaller, stand-alone refrigerated display cases and coolers.

While efforts are needed to mitigate their associated risks and ensure their safe use, natural refrigerants represent true sustainable alternatives that do not sacrifice performance. As regulatory bodies and industry organizations work to refine these standards, natural refrigerants will continue to play a key role in the future of commercial and industrial refrigeration

How to Create a Machine-learning Model in Your Enterprise in Six Simple Steps

JohnWallace_Blog_Image John Wallace | Director of Innovation, Retail Solutions

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

This blog summarizes an article from our most recent E360 Outlook, entitled Applying Machine Learning for Facility Management.” Click here to read it in its entirety.

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Machine learning is a subfield of computer science that refers to a computer’s ability to learn without being programmed. Although machines should be able to learn and adapt through experience, human interaction is still needed to produce desired results. Today, many facility management applications — for refrigeration and HVAC systems, for example — have taken a supervised learning approach that utilizes historical data to train an algorithm and predict an outcome from a series of inputs.

To create your own supervised-learning model, businesses can take these relatively simple six steps:

  1. Define the problem. It’s critical to have a keen idea of the problem you are trying to predict or solve, and establish well-defined goals of the application.
  2. Develop a data collection strategy. Data collection is achieved via inputs from a variety of information, including: temperatures, pressures, on-off activities (from motors, etc.) as well as the actions that result from these inputs. Your goal will be to predict the action that will occur for a given set of inputs. Data will be used to both train the learning model and validate the model’s performance.
  3. Create machine-learning models. Based on the training data collected and available inputs, you can create a machine-learning model that uses specific algorithms (math) to predict an action. Since different types of models may perform better or worse for a particular data set, you might need to create multiple models (different math) and then pick the one that performs best based on your data.
  4. Establish a standard. How closely does your model predict the action or result that came out of your training data? A perfect model would anticipate the result every time. While that usually doesn’t happen, the goal is to get as close as possible to achieving the desired results, and then use that model as a standard moving forward.
  5. Test the validation data. Based on the validation data from step two, evaluate the performance of your model. If the validation data doesn’t match up, you may need to step back and select a different training model, and then validate the data again. This is an intricate process. When and if the results do not match expectations, you may have to start from the beginning. Make sure you are collecting the right types of data before running the process again.
  6. Utilize the machine-learning model. Upon completion of your efforts, you should have a model that can be used to predict an action or result based on the available inputs. At some point, input parameters may change or another system modification may be required; in this event, you will need to go back periodically and update the model based on new data.
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