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Why Refrigerant Leak Repair Still Matters

Jennifer_Butsch Jennifer Butsch | Regulatory Affairs Manager

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

Proactive refrigerant management isn’t just good for the environment. It is also sound business practice. I was recently interviewed by ACHR’s The News magazine on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) partial rollback of Section 608 provisions for appliance leak repair and maintenance. You can read the full article here  and more on our perspective below.

Why Refrigerant Leak Repair Still Matters

In February, the EPA eliminated leak repair and maintenance requirements on appliances containing 50 or more pounds of substitute refrigerants, such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). As a result, equipment owners are no longer required to:

  • Repair appliances that leak above a certain level
  • Conduct verification tests on repairs
  • Periodically inspect for leaks
  • Report chronically leaking appliances to the EPA
  • Retrofit or retire appliances that are not repaired
  • Maintain related records

But just because these leak repair provisions are no longer required doesn’t mean food retailers should ignore these best practices. There is a price to pay for refrigerant leakage that extends far beyond environmental damage. Detecting, repairing and even proactively reducing refrigerant leaks will help operators avoid a variety of associated costs.

The high cost of refrigerant leaks

The rollback of legal penalties for refrigerant leaks does not change the math on the operational costs. An average food retail store leaks an estimated 25 percent of its refrigerant supply each year, which can quickly add up to thousands of dollars in lost refrigerant. In addition, retailers must consider the maintenance and equipment costs. Persistently low levels of refrigerant can cause:

  • Excess compressor wear and tear
  • Reduced compressor and system capacities
  • Premature system failures
  • Double-digit efficiency losses

Left unchecked, even minor leaks can eventually lead to equipment failure. When this occurs, emergency repair costs are often only the tip of the iceberg. Operators may also be looking at revenue loss from food waste, business disruptions and reputational damage.

Proactive refrigeration management

So what can operators do to prevent leaks, even in the absence of federal requirements?

In the near term, they can — and should — implement rigorous leak detection and repair programs. Refrigerant leaks can occur anywhere in a system. Thus, an effective refrigerant leak detection program will combine monitoring, detection and notification.

Multiple technologies are available to support these efforts, including active and passive devices for monitoring and detection. Internet of things (IoT) capabilities allow for remote monitoring, enabling operators to focus on more pressing tasks. And with the integration of data analytics platforms, operators can uncover trends, identify persistent problem areas, and make informed choices about equipment upgrades and replacement options.

Over the longer term, operators can adopt refrigeration architectures that reduce the potential for refrigerant leakage in the first place. Legacy, centralized direct-expansion rack systems are high leak-rate offenders. That shouldn’t be a surprise; with thousands of feet of pipe, hundreds of joints and large refrigerant charges, there are many opportunities for leaks to occur.

In contrast, distributed micro-booster, indoor distributed and outdoor condensing unit (OCU) architectures experience lower leak rates by design. As an added benefit, they offer more options for lower-GWP alternative refrigerant use. This is a crucial advantage for operators who want to position their business for future regulations.

Sustainable best practices

The EPA’s Section 608 leak repair provisions were good for the environment. They are also part of a larger body of best practices for optimizing HVACR equipment. As states take the lead in adopting standards for leak detection and control, operators may find the rollback of these regulations to be short-lived.

Emerson is proud to take a lead in developing sustainable and cost-effective refrigeration systems and supporting technologies. Operators and original equipment manufacturers count on us to deliver strategies and solutions that anticipate emerging trends and regulations. From pioneering refrigeration architectures to refrigerant leak detection tools, we are committed to providing operators with the capabilities to meet their sustainability and operational goals today and into the future.

 

 

 

Six Steps to a Successful Refrigeration Retrofit

AndrePatenaude_Blog_Image Andre Patenaude | Director, Food Retail Marketing & Growth Strategy, Cold Chain

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Upgrade your refrigeration technologies. One effective upgrade is changing discus compressors to digital compressors. This single retrofit can reduce compressor cycling, increase system reliability, and improve energy efficiency by 16 percent or more. Installing variable-frequency drives on condenser fan motors can save even more.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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