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Pandemic Creates Lasting Impact on Food Retailers and Commercial Refrigeration

Andre Patenaude | Director – Solutions Integration,

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solution’s Business

The year 2020 was an inflection point for the food retail industry. While many restaurants closed for in-person dining due to the COVID-19 pandemic, supermarkets and other food retailers were considered essential businesses and remained open. But for those responsible for these operations, this meant quickly adapting to new fulfillment scenarios, as many shoppers sought online grocery-ordering options such as curbside pickup and/or home delivery. I recently contributed to an ACHR The NEWS article where we discussed how the events of 2020 changed the food retail landscape and will continue to impact the commercial refrigeration industry in 2021 and beyond.

Online Retail Drives Refrigeration Decisions

As vaccine distribution increases and the COVID-19 pandemic hopefully recedes, the impacts of the pandemic will be felt well into the future. From a food retail perspective, the acceleration of e-commerce adoption appears to have permanently altered consumers’ buying behaviors and shifted the retail landscape.

According to a 2020 study by grocery e-commerce specialist Mercatus and research firm Incisiv, the growth rate of online grocery retail is expected to make up 21.5% of all grocery sales by 2025, representing a more than 60% increase compared pre-pandemic projections. As consumers continue to embrace both click-and-collect and home delivery options, many leading food retailers are rethinking their refrigeration strategies and expanding their fulfillment capabilities to meet both near-term and long-term projections.

The sheer volume of e-commerce sales took many food retailers by surprise in 2020 and has led them to take steps to shore up their online order fulfillment infrastructures. These include investments in additional refrigeration equipment and cold storage space — whether for in-house, click-and-collect operations, micro-fulfillment centers (MFCs) or even dark stores.

In addition, many retailers are evaluating their existing systems to determine if there’s available capacity to potentially tap into. Where there is not, distributed strategies such as stand-alone condensing units or self-contained cold storage are ideal solutions for creating additional refrigeration capacity. Of course, any new system designs or major retrofits will require more thorough consideration with respect to how these systems would align with retailers’ long-term sustainability goals.

It’s also important for contractors to continue playing a key role in helping retailers to make these decisions. They must be prepared with the knowledge and expertise in order to advise retailers on all the available short- and long-term refrigeration strategies — from self-contained propane cases to full CO2 systems to more distributed equipment architectures.

Cold Chain Data Tracking, Monitoring and Control

Another likely permanent impact will be the increased collective focus on cold chain tracking, monitoring and data analytics. Vaccine distribution challenges have highlighted the importance of monitoring product temperatures during transit – similar to the cold chain journey for food.

The adoption of temperature tracking, monitoring and control technologies used for the vaccines will likely accelerate the integration of these tools within the food cold chain — from farm to fork. This presents an opportunity to improve the working relationships, cooperation and technologies among producers, shippers and retailers to create an unbroken chain of temperature certainty throughout the food cold chain.

With supermarkets becoming one-stop shops for essential consumer needs — from freshly prepared and perishable foods to dry goods, pharmaceuticals and mini health care clinics — retailers have a variety of data streams strictly related to temperatures that they need to manage and monitor in order to preserve food quality and safety, as well as ensure proper vaccine storage. They also need to continuously track and monitor the performance of essential equipment and systems such as refrigeration, HVAC and lighting.

Fortunately, technological improvements and increased adoption of the internet of things (IoT) are giving supermarkets the abilities to capture, access, interpret and analyze data to deliver higher-value facility management solutions. Emerson’s Lumity™ supervisory control platform is designed to aggregate these data streams into consolidated views and provide insights to help retailers simplify their increasing facility management challenges.

From the perspectives of cold chain management, power management, equipment performance and preventative maintenance, we’re helping supermarket operators to bring all these aspects together within one cloud and one view — with robust data analytics to provide insights into each of these critical areas.

Refrigeration Strategies for Small-Format Retailers

Andre Patenaude | Director – Solutions Integration,

Emerson’s Cold Chain Business

The trend toward smaller grocery store formats has taken hold across the global food retail industry. These small-footprint outlets — which can be located closer to customers in urban centers and universities — are designed to provide optimal shopping experiences that are tailored to appeal to customers’ regional preferences. While traditional centralized refrigeration systems are too large for these small facilities, new equipment is emerging to suit these smaller spaces and support retailers’ unique operational goals and constraints. As I discussed in a recent article for ACHR The NEWS, many retailers are adopting a more decentralized refrigeration approach to support their small-format operations.

Compared to typical large-format grocery stores — which can cover more than 100,000 square feet and are found in most suburban areas — small-format stores are usually less than 40,000 square feet in size and are popping up in non-traditional locations and under-served communities. In terms of refrigeration, large stores utilize complex refrigeration rack systems, which can contain thousands of pounds of refrigerant. Small-format stores require completely different refrigeration strategies — which often means taking a decentralizing approach for more flexibility and much lower refrigerant charges.

Space constraints drive refrigeration options

Lack of space for mechanical rooms and other facility access restrictions are among the primary considerations for small-format retailers. Some stores are located inside residential buildings, which may prevent the use of remote racks or condensing units to be installed on rooftops. In mixed-use spaces, basic considerations such as door clearances can also dictate equipment selection.
The good news for retailers is that there are many refrigeration alternatives designed to address these challenges. The alternatives are often more flexible and typically combine a distributed refrigeration architecture for primary refrigeration needs, along with stand-alone cases — which integrate the refrigeration system into the case — that can be moved around a store to support seasonal and regional offerings.
Distributed approaches to refrigeration system design typically rely on indoor or outdoor condensing unit (OCU) architectures that allow the refrigeration equipment to be installed in closer proximity to fixed display cases. Another advantage of this approach is the ability to deploy a distributed controls architecture, which allows individual refrigeration assets to be operated and controlled independently. Thus, if a facility controller were to fail, there would be little to no impact on individual assets.
In addition, utilizing distributed controls in tandem with a centralized building or facility management controller results in a hybrid approach that delivers the best of both worlds: independent asset control and centralized visibility to all assets.

Multiple approaches for varying preferences

As is the case with large-format retailers, it’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for selecting a refrigeration architecture for smaller formats. From environmental sustainability to system lifecycle costs and servicing requirements, retailers have a wide range of pain points and business criteria on which to base their individual decisions. Emerson is committed to supporting small-format retailers with a variety of refrigeration solutions that can be utilized in most existing and emerging small-format architectures, including:

– A full complement of compression technologies
– Facility management controls and valves
– Copeland™ Digital Outdoor Refrigeration Unit, X-Line Series
– Copeland™ Indoor Modular Solution

We are actively partnering with OEM and retail customers to help create high-value, small-format refrigeration solutions. By combining refrigeration technology and component portfolios with design and domain expertise, our goal is to provide fully integrated solutions that can address a wide range of end-user criteria.

Natural Refrigerants Remain Viable Among Emerging Options

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

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

I was recently asked by the editor of Accelerate America to offer my opinion on the viability of natural refrigerants, including CO2 (R-744), propane (R-290) and ammonia (R-714). Among the many emerging refrigerant alternatives, natural refrigerants check important boxes for owners and operators who are preparing for the rapidly changing commercial refrigeration landscape. View the full article here and read a summary of its key points below.

For more than a decade, natural refrigerants have factored prominently in the search for environmentally friendly refrigeration in both commercial and industrial sectors. We’ve seen the introduction of R-290 in micro-distributed, self-contained cases; increased global adoption of CO2 in centralized systems; and the emergence of ultra-low-charge ammonia, by itself as well as integrated with CO2 in cascade systems. As we kick off a new decade, we will likely continue to see these refrigerants progress along those established lanes.

Drivers for natural refrigerant adoption

Since their introduction, the drivers for natural refrigerant adoption have not changed. Most legacy refrigeration strategies rely on the use of high global warming potential (GWP) hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, and companies with sustainability objectives or regulatory mandates were among the first to make the transition to natural refrigerants — which by many are considered immune from regulatory-mandated GWP caps.

In 2020, the phase-down of HFCs remains a focus of global environmental regulations. From the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol and the European F-Gas regulations to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), many countries, states and regions share the goal of an HFC phase-down.

It’s often said that there’s no such thing as a perfect refrigerant — and that’s certainly the case with natural options. But natural refrigerants are among the very few alternatives capable of meeting some of the more aggressive GWP targets. R-290 has a GWP of 3; CO2 has a GWP of 1; and ammonia has a GWP of 0. So from environmental and regulatory perspectives, this puts them in a class by themselves.

Characteristics and caveats

With decades of field use and research to draw from, the performance characteristics of natural refrigerants are well known. But each option has operating caveats that equipment owners must carefully consider before investing in a long-term refrigeration strategy.

  • R-290 offers excellent energy efficiencies, but as an A3 (flammable) refrigerant, safety regulations limit its use to small charges globally from 150g to 500g. R-290 is a natural fit for small-capacity, self-contained cases that require a lower charge and are hermetically sealed at the factory.
  • CO2 is a high-pressure refrigerant with a low critical point (87.8 °F) that determines its modes of operation (subcritical, or below the critical point; transcritical, or above the critical point). It also has a high triple point where the refrigerant will turn to dry ice. Systems must be designed to manage these characteristics, and operators must have access to qualified technicians.
  • Ammonia has been used in industrial refrigeration for the past century, but its toxicity (B2L classification) presents challenges to equipment owners. Tightening safety regulations and the risk of exposure have led to system architectures designed to lower charges and move it out of occupied spaces.

Selecting a natural architecture

When evaluating natural refrigerant architectures, store formats and application requirements will often dictate the refrigerant choice. R-290 is well-suited for either smaller-format stores or as a spot merchandising option for larger stores. CO2 makes the most sense in larger stores seeking a centralized architecture alternative to HFCs. Ammonia is relatively rare in commercial applications but is finding its way into innovative architectures designed to mitigate its risks and benefit from its excellent performance characteristics.

R-290, from integrated cases to micro-distributed — For nearly a decade, manufacturers have worked within the 150g charge limit to create self-contained, integrated cases, in which the refrigeration system (compressor and condensing unit) is built into the display case. These evolved into a micro-distributed approach for small stores, where multiple units share a water/glycol loop to remove excess heat. This approach provides very low-GWP, total-store cooling while keeping charges low, typically operating with 90% less refrigerant than a centralized system.

CO2 transcritical booster — CO2 came into prominence more than a decade ago in large supermarkets where centralized architectures are preferred. CO2 transcritical booster system technology continues to improve today, offering an all-natural solution for both low- and medium-temperature cooling. Compared to centralized HFC systems, CO2 transcritical boosters represent a completely different approach to system operation and servicing. Operators must acquire technicians that are trained to service CO2 systems and implement strategies for power outages in order to mitigate “stand-still” pressure while the system is off.

CO2/ammonia hybrid subcritical (cascade) — CO2 cascade systems are designed to utilize CO2 in the low-temperature (LT) suction group where the refrigerant stays below its critical point and operates at lower pressures, much like a traditional HFC. Typically, an HFC (or HFO/HFC blend) is used in the medium-temperature (MT) circuit, where heat produced from the LT circuit is discharged (i.e., cascaded) into a heat exchanger and into the suction stage of the MT circuit. However, the recent introduction of ammonia as the MT refrigerant has transformed this configuration into an all-natural refrigerant option.

Safety first

With each of these natural refrigerant options, safety must be the primary consideration. Manufacturers have poured a great deal of effort into ensuring the safe operation and maintenance of natural systems with a variety of strategies, including pressure relief valves, specially designed components, leak detection devices, and proper guidance to owners and operators.

The global regulatory climate and trend toward environmentally friendly refrigeration will help natural refrigerants to proliferate along these well-established paths of least resistance. Still, there is much to consider for system operators, who must weigh the opportunity costs for selecting a natural refrigerant option.

 

Emerson Celebrates and Sponsors World Refrigeration Day 2020

RajanRajendran2 Rajan Rajendran | V.P., System Innovation Center and Sustainability

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

June 26 is the second annual celebration of World Refrigeration Day. The event, which memorializes the birth date (June 26) of Lord Kelvin for whom the Absolute temperature scale is named, was started last year to raise visibility, awareness and understanding of the significant role that the refrigeration, air-conditioning and heat pump (RACP) sector plays in modern life and society.

Emerson Celebrates and Sponsors World Refrigeration Day 2020

This year’s theme, “Cold Chain 4 Life,” aims to make the public, policy makers and end-users aware of technology, food waste/loss, human health and comfort, environment and energy considerations associated with the cold chain. The campaign strives to motivate adoption of best practices to minimize food waste/loss in the supply chain, stimulate wise technology selections and enhance operations to minimize leakage of refrigerants and maximize energy efficiency.

As part of its celebration, we will host a live trivia event on our Copeland™ Facebook page at 2 p.m. EDT / 11 a.m. PDT that day (June 26). The trivia questions will be related to the commercial refrigeration and air conditioning industry, Emerson company history and product knowledge. Participants who answer correctly will have the chance to win Emerson items, including genuine Copeland brand t-shirts and a $100 Amazon.com® gift card for the grand-prize winner.

On World Refrigeration Day and every day, we are committed to advancing innovation by actively engaging with industry leaders to address the many challenges the industry is facing — including evolving environment-related regulations; climate change awareness; human health and comfort; the growing ubiquity of digital technologies; food safety and quality needs; and the never-ending energy efficiency and operating cost concerns.

By actively participating in organizations such as Air-Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), Global Food Cold Chain Council (GFCCC), European Partnership for Energy and the Environment (EPEE), and Council for Harmonization of Electrotechnical Standards of the Nations of Americas (CANENA), we play a strategic role in understanding and interpreting the ever-changing landscape of international, national and state-level regulations. Most recently, our experts have been supporting initiatives to explore more globally friendly refrigerants through participation in the AHRI Safe Refrigerant Transition Task Force established in April 2019. The task force was established with the goal of evaluating and in turn enabling safe and reliable use of low-GWP refrigerants. Whether it’s energy efficiency or the transition to lower GWP refrigerants, we are uniquely positioned to help guide and support our customers in overcoming these complexities, not only on World Refrigeration Day, but all year long.

For more information on World Refrigeration Day, visit www.worldrefrigerationday.org.

Three Trends Shaping the Commercial Refrigeration Sector

DaveBersaglini Dave Bersaglini | Vice President & General Manager, Refrigeration

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

HVACR Business recently invited me to participate in an executive roundtable on the evolution of the commercial refrigeration sector. You can read the full article here and more on our perspective below.

Three Trends Shaping the Commercial Refrigeration Sector

Three Trends Shaping the Commercial Refrigeration Sector

The commercial refrigeration sector is experiencing a period of innovation unlike any other in its history. Regulatory pressures, changing consumer habits and the growing demands for more efficient and sustainable technologies are transforming the market. Business owners and supermarket operators have a tremendous range of environmentally friendly, operationally efficient and — perhaps most importantly — regulatory-compliant solutions from which to choose.

But in order to do this, operators must navigate an ever-growing pool of refrigeration solutions, strategies and technologies. Keeping current on emerging technologies and consumer trends while anticipating future regulatory requirements are the keys to getting the best return on this long-term investment.

More choices

Without a doubt, the greatest challenge for original equipment manufacturers (OEM) and operators alike is transitioning to the future of refrigeration systems. New refrigeration equipment, components and technologies are coming online in response to global demands for lower-GWP (global warming potential) refrigerants. In addition, more flexible refrigeration architectures are being launched to satisfy the move toward smaller retail footprints.

As a result, operators are facing a proliferation of refrigeration scenarios, each posing its own set of advantages and drawbacks. Decisions must be weighed against a host of factors, such as environmental impact, total cost of ownership, long-term viability and the ability to adapt to evolving consumer behaviors and potential future regulations. Education is key here; contractors and manufacturers will need to step up and help retailers explore and identify the options that will best satisfy their needs.

More connected

Automation and internet of things (IoT) technologies will increasingly play roles in this sector. System electronics are helping to manage refrigeration cycles and system operations, while compressor protection and diagnostic capabilities are simplifying service and maintenance processes. These connected components will provide operators with unprecedented visibility into critical facility systems that extend beyond refrigeration to include air quality, lighting and energy management. Supported by user-friendly platforms that integrate these key systems, operators will be able to more efficiently manage and optimize facility and energy performance.

More complex

The shift to lower-GWP refrigerants and the growth of new technologies pose a unique set of challenges to contractors. Extensive training on the proper procedures for recovering and servicing new and natural refrigeration systems, such as CO2-based systems, will be imperative. Contractors will also need to increase their knowledge of the landscape so they can align their customers’ goals with the available equipment options. This may require higher upfront costs, but they will pay off in the long term as today’s innovations become the norm.

Ready for the future

At Emerson, we are at the forefront of environmentally friendly and financially viable refrigeration systems and supporting technologies. Moreover, we’ve taken a proactive approach to contractor education, providing a wealth of options to help technicians increase their skills and expand their knowledge base to better serve customers.

At every step, we strive to help operators make informed decisions to maximize their investments. After all, commercial refrigeration systems can — and should — be in service for decades. And with no end in sight to the dramatic changes that are shaping the industry, operators need solutions that can adapt to and grow with the next generation of technologies and system architectures. Our approach to total refrigeration system sustainability is designed to deliver solutions that satisfy operational and sustainability objectives today, while anticipating the needs of tomorrow.

 

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