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Refrigerant Leak Detection: Four Areas for Retailers to Consider

Do you have a refrigerant leak detection program in place? I recently wrote an article featured in Convenience Store Decisions addressing best practices for retailers on this topic.

LeakCheck-02Effective refrigerant leak detection strategies can help retailers with savings not only at the individual store level, but across an entire enterprise. Refrigerant leaks are caused by a number of factors and can occur in any system. Facilities using commercial HVACR equipment that implement refrigerant best management practices will ultimately reduce their consumption of refrigerant, affecting their bottom line and sustainability efforts.

Here are four areas that retailers should focus on for effective leak detection programs:

  1. Establish a zero-tolerance policy for refrigerant leaks: Convenience store leaders should clearly communicate the importance of detecting and minimizing leaks throughout all levels of their organization. We also recommend developing a refrigerant management plan, including a mission statement that does not tolerate leaks.
  2. Utilize automatic detection to track leaks: Install Automatic Leak Detection (ALD) equipment, which is critical to detecting leaks, issuing notifications, and continuous monitoring and reporting. Leak detection alarms can be integrated into a facility management system, and remote monitoring can assist with management of leak notifications as well as preventive measures.
  3. Analyze data to identify trends and implement actions: Through utilization of leak detection technologies, retailers can begin to use that data to correlate the leaks with specific equipment or sites that are causing the problems, and then apply focused efforts to improve those issues. Monitoring and analyzing the system data to identify potential leaks early on will help prevent these costly minor leaks.
  4. Institute proper maintenance procedures: Performing regular preventive maintenance on refrigeration systems will ultimately save retailers more. It’s important to have proper maintenance procedures in place to minimize leak rates.

You can read the full Convenience Store Decisions article online here.

  For more than 20 years, Emerson Retail Solutions has been helping businesses like yours safeguard food, reduce energy consumption, protect the environment and optimize business results. To learn more about our technology solutions and services for retailers, visit our website.

 John Wallace
Director of Innovation, Retail Solutions
Emerson Climate Technologies

Industry Sets Sights on Reducing Refrigerant Leaks

For decades, refrigerant leaks have been considered an inevitable yet unfortunate consequence of operating typical supermarket refrigeration systems. Often thought of as a cost of doing business, refrigerant leaks and their far-reaching impacts are largely underestimated.

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With increased consumer, business and regulatory focus on minimizing the environmental impacts of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, food retailers are recognizing the importance of reducing refrigerant leaks through effective leak detection practices.

Before implementing strategies to reduce refrigerant leaks, it’s important we fully understand the regulatory landscape to better align our efforts with existing and proposed regulations.

Increased Regulatory Focus on Leak Detection

The EPA introduced Section 608 as part of the Clean Air Act (CAA) in the 1990s to address emissions of ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbon and hydrochlorofluorocarbon refrigerants used in stationary refrigeration and air conditioning. The main tenets of the ruling are designed to ensure proper use, handling and disposal of these refrigerants.

In October 2015, the EPA announced a significant new alternatives policy (SNAP) proposal to amend Section 608 of its CAA.1 It incorporates some of the key elements of the CARB initiative and lowers the leak rate threshold for penalties.

As with all SNAP proposals, the EPA encouraged the industry to submit public comments to the federal register. We don’t yet know when the final rule will be announced, but given its alignment with the CARB regulations, the proposal will likely lower the leak threshold and recommend automated monitoring or more frequent leak inspections.

Key Elements of Effective Leak Detection Programs

Accurate detection methods, reliable notifications and continuous monitoring are the key elements in an effective leak detection program. When developing your program, your aim should be to not only establish proper leak detection response protocols, but also institute proactive measures to minimize or eliminate leaks altogether.

Detection — an effective program starts with detection. There are differing technologies available depending on your requirements, and I will address these in the last section of this blog. But installing devices in the locations most likely to produce refrigerant leaks — particularly racks and cases — is as equally as important.

Notifications — ensure that the correct individuals in the organization are alerted when a leak has occurred. Alarms are typically remote, local or a combination of the two. Most remote notifications are tied into the store’s energy management system that will alert a technician or monitoring center to ensure that the leak is handled correctly.

Continuous monitoring — is one aspect that is often overlooked. By recording and analyzing the data around leak events, retailers can correlate the leaks with different types of equipment or maintenance events. In doing so, they can identify problem areas, develop more effective leak detection programs and improve their overall operations.

Conclusion: Leak Detection Makes Good Business Sense

With the renewed regulatory focus on reducing refrigerant leaks, retailers are taking a closer look at developing effective leak detection strategies. Through the help of ALD devices, retailers can achieve continuous monitoring, satisfy reporting requirements and reduce the need to perform manual inspections.

But achieving compliance with current or future regulations is only one benefit. When you examine the cost of lost refrigerant, the degradation of refrigerated system performance and the potential for eventual food loss, the business case for implementing effective leak detection programs is as clear as refrigerant-free air.

This blog is a summary of the article Industry Sets Sights on Reducing Refrigerant Leaks from our recent edition of E360 Outlook. Click here to learn more about effective leak detection.



Importance of Effective Leak Detection Explored in Recent E360 Webinar

In the fifteenth installment of Emerson Climate Technologies’ E360 Webinar series, Director of Innovation John Wallace presented “Understanding Refrigerant Leak Detection and Implementing Effective Programs.” The informative Webinar introduced the impacts of leak detection, provided an overview of current and proposed regulations, and discussed the key elements and technologies used in a leak detection program.

To place  leak detection in the proper context, Wallace explained that an average supermarket has approximately 3,500 pounds of refrigerant on-site, of which approximately 20 percent is lost each year to leaks. While the annual economic cost is nearly $5,000 for an individual store, across a chain of stores this impact becomes much more significant — $500,000 for a 100-site supermarket chain. In this scenario, that environmental impact is equivalent to 124,500 metric tons of CO2: the emissions of 24,000 cars or 10,600 homes. Wallace explained that refrigeration racks and cases are among the largest contributors to supermarket refrigerant leaks. He also provided links to the EPA’s financial impact calculators so that attendees could perform this analysis for their specific scenarios.

Wallace explained that understanding the regulatory landscape is equally as important. The EPA has announced a significant new alternatives policy (SNAP) proposal to amend Section 608 of its Clean Air Act, lowering its existing 35 percent leak detection threshold to 20 percent in industrial process refrigeration and commercial refrigeration. The SNAP proposal also calls for quarterly inspections for systems containing at least 500 pounds of refrigerant. Wallace pointed out the potential for inspections and reminded attendees to familiarize themselves with the EPA’s specific proposal to make sure they know the potential impacts to their particular application.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is also part of the leak detection regulatory landscape. Similar to Section 608, CARB is a state-specific measure that requires periodic leak inspections, reporting and follow-up actions. For systems containing more than 2,000 pounds of refrigerant charge, CARB has mandated the use of Automated Leak Detection (ALD) equipment to ensure ongoing, proper leak detection procedures. Wallace explained how the EPA’s SNAP proposal to Section 608 and CARB both shared some key characteristics, and that ALD equipment would be critical to detecting leaks, issuing notifications, and continuous monitoring and reporting.

Wallace presented the best practices of an effective leak detection program, starting by establishing a zero-tolerance policy that stresses the importance of detecting and minimizing leaks throughout an organization. Then, through utilization of leak detection technology, organizations can begin to correlate leak occurrences to specific equipment, analyze data to identify trends and implement corrective actions. Early detection and proper maintenance procedures are also critical to minimizing leak rates.

Finally, Wallace also talked about the technologies available to help organizations minimize the impacts of leak detection and help them achieve regulatory compliance. He discussed the two primary technology categories and their characteristics, all of which potentially meet CARB’s ALD requirement:

  • Direct — directly monitors the concentration of refrigerants in the air; made up of both active and passive types that can connect to a site monitoring system to provide notifications:
    • Active — centralized system with tubing technology that “sniffs” multiple zones
    • Passive — zone-specific infrared technology
  • Indirect — monitors and interprets the status and operation of the refrigeration system. This method generally uses existing sensors and hardware.

To learn more about leak detection and view this Webinar in its entirety, please visit our website.

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