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HVACR Contractors Discuss the Potential of New Technologies

BobLabbett_Blog Bob Labbett | V.P. – Aftermarket Distribution, Cold Chain

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

At a recent E360 Breakfast, Emerson hosted a panel discussion among HVACR contractors to glean their insights and opinions on the biggest challenges and emerging trends impacting their businesses. It was a valuable opportunity to get a working perspective on issues more often discussed by industry analysts. A recent article covers a wide range of topics, including talks of new, high-end technologies at a practical level. You can read the whole article here.

The new technologies, IoT and analytics in the field

In recent years, the HVACR industry has experienced an influx of new electronic controls, connected technologies and data analytics enabled by the internet of things (IoT). As these technologies have come online, each of the three contractors on the E360 panel, with companies and customer bases of different sizes, has had different degrees of experience and interaction with these technologies in the field — from working with component-level information to gathering insights on facility management.

Making better use of data and analytics in the enterprise

Jim Wharton, area vice president of Link Network, ABM in Atlanta, works with an enterprise-level customer base. He explained that while data collection capabilities have been available for decades in different forms of energy management systems (EMS), many operators don’t use them to their full potential. Many may glance at their facility dashboards, see multiple areas running in the red (out-of-tolerance conditions), and may simply ignore the potential problems. “Most operators know the way their building behaves, and if they see an alarm in a certain area, they also know whether it will go away or if they need to act on it,” he said. He added that advanced data analytics now offer more insights and the potential to add tangible operational value by helping to drive informed decision making, detecting performance trends and providing equipment diagnostics and troubleshooting.

Embracing new technologies at home

Residential consumers are also embracing whole-home automation, said Martin Hoover, owner of Empire Heating & Air Conditioning in Atlanta. He said that his customers love getting notified of routine maintenance items, such as when to change filters or fix a water clog or leak. But most importantly, homeowners are using these systems to diagnose problems. “They like the fact that their home automation systems can let us know if something’s broken, so we can fix it before it affects their comfort levels,” said Hoover. But from a contractor’s perspective, he stressed that a home system also helps properly trained and educated technicians perform their own diagnostics. “This doesn’t allow us to take someone straight out of high school and put them in the field, but it certainly makes it easier,” he added.

On-board compressor controls are also helping service contractors gain deeper insights into overall refrigeration system performance. Michael Duffee, owner of Restaurant Equipment Services, Inc. of Tucker, Ga., cautions that these advanced controls require trained technicians. “If they’re not familiar with the technology, then you have to train them to avoid misdiagnosis, as there’s still the potential for things to go wrong,” he said.

Developing new technology for the real world of refrigeration

Designing new sensor technologies to be resistant to the impacts of weather, water and humid conditions are also very important considerations for Duffee. For example, he said, “In walk-in cooler environments, where it’s wet and sometimes caustic with the food and so forth, we’ve seen issues with consistency and where sensors and microprocessors can cause problems.”

With our broad knowledge of the full range of commercial refrigeration applications, Emerson keeps these environmental considerations upfront as we develop and introduce next-generation sensors and controls. For applications as simple as automated residential controls or as the source of real-time data for enterprise and IoT analytics, Emerson continuously consults with end users on the real-world issues raised by new technology.

How HVACR Contractors Are Responding to the Labor Shortage

BobLabbett_Blog Bob Labbett | V.P. – Aftermarket Distribution, Cold Chain

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

At a recent E360 Breakfast, Emerson hosted a panel discussion among HVACR contractors to glean their insights and opinions on the biggest challenges and emerging trends impacting their businesses. In an article written about the discussion, a wide range of topics was covered, from the impact of new regulated refrigerants to the potential of today’s emerging high-end technologies, and more. One issue dominated the discussion: the impact of the labor shortage in contracting businesses. You can read the entire article here.

“We all would agree that labor is our number one issue.”

This statement by Martin Hoover, owner of Empire Heating & Air Conditioning in Atlanta, phrases American HVAC contractors’ key concern in a nutshell. Throughout the panel discussion, the technician shortage was a recurring theme — regardless of the topic discussed. When the conversation zeroed in on their labor challenges, each contractor was eager to detail how it was impacting his business and what steps the industry could take to help improve the situation.

The recruiting is non-stop

Finding qualified candidates starts at the company level, and each panelist has different approaches to the recruitment, onboarding and training processes. Hoover said his recruitment never stops. “We’re a small company and we recruit 24/seven/365,” he said. His company has developed an accelerated career progression plan for promising candidates, one specially designed to appeal to younger people new to the trade. “We’ve divided career steps into 30-day increments, which engages the younger generation from the entry level and allows them to progress very quickly,” he said. The goal is to accelerate their path to senior technician level and provide ample avenues for advancement.

Changing the perceptions of a valuable skill

Michael Duffee, owner of Restaurant Equipment Services, Inc. of Tucker, Ga., said one of his biggest recruitment hurdles continues to be the negative public perception of the trade. “Let’s face it, the trades sometimes have a less than positive image, and our trade is very demanding,” he said. “We get our hands dirty, we work with heavy equipment, on rooftops in the pouring rain, in snow and 100-degree temps.” Because of these factors, Duffee’s company places a premium on candidates who are enthusiastic and possess positive personality traits.

According to Duffee, the industry needs a renewed focus at the high school level to promote the trades. As experienced technicians retire from the industry, Duffee sees the labor shortage only getting worse in the coming years. “We all should be aware and take whatever steps necessary to change this trend,” he concluded.

Putting HVACR careers on the radar

Adding to Duffee’s point, Jim Wharton, area vice president of Link Network, ABM in Atlanta, noted that HVACR has fallen off the radar of many high schools with trade programs. “When you talk to high schools about trades, no one is talking about HVACR, so most don’t know it is an option.” Instead, Wharton’s company relies on alternative sources for recruitment, reaching out to former members of the U.S. military, vocational schools and technical colleges, and career and technical organizations.

Wherever recruits are found, Hoover stresses that on-the-job experience is the final step toward developing a well-rounded technician. “Tech schools don’t really teach someone how to present yourself to a customer and have the proper communication skills,” he said.

New challenges in HVACR bring new opportunities to technicians

With the introduction of new refrigerants and technologies, there’s no question that the HVACR service technician trade is more challenging than ever. But within this growing knowledge base lie growing career opportunities. As Hoover pointed out, “The technician shortage will drive up pay rates.” And the influx of connected technologies, software and analytics transforming the industry may help make the job more attractive to younger, tech-savvy candidates.

At Emerson, we believe that creating awareness of HVACR technologies and career opportunities at high schools and technical colleges is one of the keys to attracting the next generation of candidates. Even as technologies advance to provide more proactive and predictive capabilities, the industry will still need highly skilled individuals in the field to apply their own experiential know-how to system diagnosis and repair.

 

Supermarket Upgrades That Impact Energy Efficiency and Cost Savings

DarrenCooper Darren Cooper | President

Renteknik Group

At the E360 Forum in Houston last fall, Nik Rasskazovskiy, director of business development for ClearFlow Energy Finance, and I discussed the role of energy services companies (ESCOs) in helping grocery operators achieve and sustain long-term energy savings with end-to-end solutions. We shared our insights and experiences, as well as best practices and real-world case studies. Read more below, then view the full E360 Forum presentation.

According to Progressive Grocer Magazine, food retail is an almost $700 billion industry. Operating on razor-thin margins (generally a little more than 1 percent and only seeming to get slimmer every year), the industry is always on the lookout for new ways to cut costs and boost profitability.

Already making a considerable positive impact on the bottom line in other industries, ESCOs can offer grocery operators a new opportunity to reduce their energy spend — and increase profits.

Reducing energy spend is already a key objective for supermarket operators. ESCOs offer a systematic way to implement sustainable, long-term efficiency plans across their fleet with minimal risk or initial out-of-pocket expense.

How does it work?

ESCOs are in the business of developing, designing, funding and ultimately building turnkey solutions that save energy, reduce energy costs, and decrease operations and maintenance costs at their customers’ facilities.

ESCOs actually guarantee their clients a specific level of energy cost savings from the proposed project. They are subsequently compensated via the actual performance of the project, earning a percentage of the overall energy savings dollars for an agreed upon length of time. At the end of the term, the client keeps the savings for perpetuity.

In the presentation, I said, “The opportunities are real and the savings are real. We’re not doing anything that is really groundbreaking. This is not new technology. This is proven technology that you can actually utilize and implement in your systems. The ESCO part means that there’s no upfront cash necessary. We’re now in a position to provide this as a turnkey solution. We can work with your preferred equipment supplier and your preferred contractor, without needing any money, so you’re cash flow positive from day one.” And I meant every word of it.

The first step in your journey to energy efficiency: establishing a baseline

To identify savings opportunities, you must first fully understand your current energy consumption. Fortunately, today’s device-level power monitoring technologies offer real-time insights into your control systems and can help create “power profiles” by tracking usage across a wide range of temperatures and conditions.

Beginning from that baseline, the ESCO team works with food retailers to conduct comprehensive building and systems audits to identify opportunities for sustainable, long-term energy efficiency upgrades. This can take the form of refrigeration upgrades, variable frequency drives (VFDs), new cases or case controls, HVAC and demand control ventilation, and even renewable technologies if they make sense.

A proven process that’s yielded positive results, the ESCO methodology is sound and straightforward:

  • Building system audit completed — opportunities identified, target savings established
  • Client and ESCO enter into guaranteed, performance-based energy savings performance contract
  • ESCO secures financing
  • Project is built and commissioned
  • Ongoing monitoring and verification ensure that target efficiency savings are being met
  • Lender is repaid from savings
  • At the end of the term, the client keeps all savings

“It’s really a win-win situation,” noted Rasskazovskiy, who’s successfully navigated the financial end of projects across multiple industries. “Once the ESCO organizes everything, implements the project and the savings start trickling in, there’s a management process that verifies that the actual savings have been achieved. Those savings are shared between the end customer and the ESCO to pay out all the services costs, including financing. After the term of the contract is done, the customer is left with the same equipment and gets to enjoy 100 percent of the savings going forward.”

To learn more about ESCOs and the retail food industry, including real-world savings examples, watch the video here.

 

Refrigerant Regulations: 2018 Recap and 2019 Impacts

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

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

The year 2018 brought many changes to refrigerant regulations, with additional activity expected in 2019 and beyond. This blog highlights some of the key developments, which were presented in a recent E360 article. Read the full article here.

 

The regulation of refrigerants continues to be a source of great uncertainty in the commercial refrigeration industry. As global, national and state regulations have targeted the phase-down of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants in recent years, some in the industry have begun the transition toward alternative refrigerants with lower global warming potential (GWP). But these environmentally friendly options raise additional questions about performance and safety.

All in all, it’s a complex regulatory mix that got even more complicated in 2018. But we’re here to recap recent events and place them into a larger context.

The status of EPA SNAP Rule 20

In 2017, the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled to vacate the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Significant New Alternative Policy (SNAP) Rule 20. The court ruled that the EPA did not have authority to phase down HFCs under the Clean Air Act (CAA) — which was originally intended to eliminate ozone-depleting substances (ODS) — and thus could no longer enforce its 2015 GWP-based mandates.

In the absence of Rule 20, the commercial refrigeration industry has many questions about what the path toward a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future for refrigerants will look like. Industry calls to overturn the District of Columbia Court of Appeal’s decision were declined by the Supreme Court, which stated it would not hear the HFC case1. Currently, the EPA is drafting new regulations that will clarify its plans to move forward with SNAP. We anticipate details on their position early this year.

EPA rescinds other HFC-related regulations

The EPA has also indicated that it will no longer enforce refrigerant delistings and has proposed to roll back other HFC-related regulations2. In particular, the EPA has proposed excluding HFCs from the leak repair and maintenance requirements for stationary refrigeration equipment, otherwise known as Section 608 of the CAA.

California adopts Rule 20 as the basis for its initiatives

Regulatory uncertainty at the federal level is not preventing states from adopting their own refrigerant regulations and programs. California Senate Bill 1383, aka the Super Pollutant Reduction Act, was passed in 2016 and requires that Californians reduce F-gas emissions (including HFCs) by 40 percent by 20303. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has been tasked with meeting these reductions.

Since 2016, CARB had been using EPA SNAP Rules 20 and 21 as the bases of its HFC phase-down initiatives. Even after SNAP Rule 20 was vacated, CARB moved to adopt compliance dates that were already implemented or upcoming. The passing of California Senate Bill 1013 — aka the California Cooling Act — in Sept. 20184 mandates the full adoption of SNAP Rules 20 and 21 as they read on Jan. 3, 2017. The law is currently in effect and does not require additional CARB rulemaking to uphold compliance dates.

CARB is also proposing an aggressive second phase of rulemaking that would further impact commercial refrigeration and AC applications. CARB has held public workshops and invited industry stakeholders to comment on the details of this proposal.

Meanwhile, many other states have announced their plans to follow California’s lead on HFC phase-downs. The U.S. Climate Alliance, formed in 2017 out of a coalition of 16 states and Puerto Rico, is committed to reducing short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), including HFCs. Among these alliance states, New York, Maryland, Connecticut and Delaware have announced plans to follow California’s lead on HFC phase-downs.

Refrigerant safety standards and codes under review

Many of the low-GWP, hyrdrofluoroolefin (HFO) refrigerants are classified as A2L, or mildly flammable. R-290 (propane) is also becoming a natural refrigerant option for many low-charge, self-contained applications. Currently, national and global governing agencies are evaluating the standards that establish allowable charge limits and the safe use of these A2L and A3 refrigerants.

Internationally, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) has proposed increasing charge limits for refrigeration systems in IEC60335-2-89 as follows:

  • A2Ls — from 150g to 1.2kg
  • A3s — 500g for factory-sealed systems, and will remain at 150g for split systems

These proposals are still under review and will likely be published sometime in 2019.

Kigali Amendment took effect on Jan. 1

The regulatory uncertainty in the U.S. can sometimes obscure international efforts underway to phase down HFCs. The Montreal Protocol has led the way on this effort for nearly a decade5. In 2016, 197 countries met in Kigali, Rwanda, and agreed on a global HFC phase-down proposal. Known as the Kigali Amendment, this treaty has been ratified by 53 countries (including the E.U.) and took effect on Jan. 1 for participating countries. The U.S. is still considering ratification.

As we move into 2019, there are many moving pieces on the regulatory chess board, but also some encouraging signs of progress. We will be providing the very latest regulatory updates in our next E360 Webinar. Register now to stay informed.

  1. https://www.achrnews.com/articles/140040-supreme-court-declines-to-hear-hfc-case
  2. https://www.epa.gov/section608/revised-section-608-refrigerant-management-regulations
  3. https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160SB1383
  4. https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180SB1013
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montreal_Protocol#Hydrochlorofluorocarbons_(HCFCs)_Phase-out_Management_Plan_(HPMP)

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.

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