Equipment manufacturers and retailers are kicking their sustainability efforts up a notch by focusing on new technologies and comprehensive energy-saving strategies.
While saving the earth is a noble goal, most retailers face a constant balancing act of making the right choices for their customers, their business and the environment.
The divide between these divergent objectives is narrowing, thanks to intelligent equipment that operates at peak efficiency while still providing the necessary canvas to merchandise the products that draw customers.
“Retailers and manufacturers have worked hard to take waste out of the system,” said Charlie Souhrada, director of member services for the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM), a Chicago-based trade organization for foodservice equipment manufacturers and suppliers. NAFEM has develop several online tools to help retailers sort out the environmental impact of their equipment choices that can be downloaded from the NAFEM website, www.nafem.org, Souhrada says.
The sustainability calculator identifies specific environmental factors, awards points to the corresponding factors and calculates a total score.
The life cycle/total cost-of-ownership tools help retailers assemble and analyze information to consistently establish life expectancies and total cost of ownership for commercial foodservice equipment and supplies.
“This tool helps operators calculate what it takes to run a piece of equipment during its lifespan, which is becoming a major factor in making equipment choices that are friendly to the environment and the bottom line,” Souhrada says.
Industry observers say much of the sustainability efforts are being focused on the biggest energy consumers in the supermarket: refrigeration, HVAC and lighting. With a move toward increased collaboration between equipment manufacturers and retailers it seems more and more stores are operating at peak efficiency.
“We meet with each customer to define their goals and determine the best mix of technology that will address those goals in a timely and economically viable manner,” says Carl Petersen, marketing and advertising manager for Zero Zone, a North Prairie, Wis.-based manufacturer of refrigeration equipment. “Often, pursuing ‘green’ targets results in significant positive contributions to the bottom line.”
He points to Lowe’s Market, a 148-store chain with locations in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, as an example. Officials for the retailer worked with Zero Zone to standardize one refrigerant, R410A, for all of its cooling needs.
“The Lowe’s Market in Albuquerque was the test store and was to become the first store in the U.S. to attempt this challenge,” Petersen says. “Their goal for this 17,000-square-foot remodel was to use only R410A refrigerant to handle HVAC, medium-temp and low-temp display cases, and walk-ins. The refrigeration system was optimized with Copeland Digital Discus Compressors equipped with CoreSense diagnostic capability and Sporlan Electronic Expansion Valves. Two Zero Zone Outdoor Parallel Systems were outfitted with this equipment and located on the store roof over their respective circuits. The total system charge for both racks was only 750 pounds.”
Although the system has been running for less than a year, the store has already seen tangible results in line with the original expectations, say officials for the retailer.
The first expectation was that the refrigeration system, operating on R410A, would account for up to 10% efficiency gains. With the addition of the Crystal Merchandiser lineups, Gary Cooper, Lowe’s director of refrigeration says, “We have no reason to suspect it will be less than what we anticipated, which is 70% to 80%. I can run a whole five-door Crystal Merchandiser on the power it takes to run about three feet of standard multi-deck open case.”
The Zero Zone RVZC30T2 low-temp cases with 72-inch tall doors run efficiently on R410A. The R410A also has global warming potential (GWP) of about 2,000, compared to the 4,000 GWP of standard R404A refrigerant.
When it comes to air conditioning, retailers are also turning to high-efficiency systems using R410A, says Rajan Rajendran, vice president of engineering services and sustainability for Sidney, Ohio-based Emerson Climate Technologies. “In retail supermarket refrigeration applications, many retailers are successfully switching from using R404A to R407A and R407F,” he says. “Quite a few are trying other new refrigerants—CO2 mostly—and one retailer is using ammonia as its refrigerant.” He says supermarket retailers are also focusing on maintenance and improving efficiency through reductions in downtime.
Kavita Valllabhaneni, manager of product marketing for Baltimore Aircoil, a Jessup, Md.-based provider of condensers and other refrigeration equipment, says the industry should watch Europe for advances in sustainable refrigerants. “CO2 is very popular in Europe and starting to get some attention in the U.S.,” she says. “Retailers are tired of changing refrigerant multiple times and are looking for solutions that will take them through the life of the equipment.”
Baltimore Aircoil’s TrilliumSeries Condenser uses a patented dry-coil adiabatic design that saves energy, reduces refrigerant charge and lowers operating costs, Valllabhaneni says.
With the use of pre-programmed proprietary logic and sophisticated controls, the On-Demand Adiabatic Pre-Cooler uses water only on the hottest days to maintain condensing temperatures that typical air-cooled technology cannot achieve, say officials for the company. No water treatment is necessary for this equipment, therefore, water from the drain and overflow can be re-used.
A broader view
While Baltimore Aircoil is working on technology that uses less energy, refrigerants and water, other firms are also taking a more comprehensive approach to sustainability.
Officials at Hussmann say they are working with retailers to assess their overall sustainability goals when it comes to refrigeration as well as other areas of the store.
“We have an application that enables our energy specialists to do a complete inventory of the store,” says Tim Ryan, vice president of retailer optimization for Bridgeton, Mo.-based Hussmann. “We do a complete check, which includes things such as identifying components in cases that could be potentially changed out to save energy, as well as motors, drives and the savings that could be realized with night curtains if they aren’t being used. But it is not just refrigeration. We look at potential savings by changing the overhead and accent lighting and take into account things such as is the HVAC system being properly maintained. These are things that can be applied and replicated in other areas.”
Hussmann’s EcoShine LED upgrade solutions for refrigerated cases and its EcoVision doors for multi-deck cases are two ways its sustainable focus has resulted in equipment innovation. “Not only do the EcoVision doors offer the potential for an 84% reduction in energy consumption, the slim design provides for superior product visibility and merchandising,” Ryan says.
Hussmann’s energy specialists can act as an advocate for the retailer, says Cathy Heaton, an energy specialist with the equipment company. “We’re not just an equipment sales company any more,” she says, noting that the company has a relationship with utility firms to help retailers find ways to save money on their energy bills. “We do a deep dive and offer a total solution for the retail space.” She says this has become increasingly important as more supermarkets seek Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Observers say the demand for natural refrigerants such as CO2, ammonia and even propane will have an impact on equipment development. “Heatcraft has a broad list of products released or under development that will use a variety of alternative or natural refrigerant,” says George Parsons, director of case engineering for Kysor/Warren brand products for Heatcraft Worldwide Refrigeration, based in Stone Mountain, Ga. “We are currently completing projects to significantly increase our lab testing capability to accelerate and broaden our strong focus on continuing to release the market’s most energy efficient products.”
He says the company’s recently opened Innovation Center will play a key role in product development. “With the recent grand opening of the state-of-the-art Heatcraft Innovation Center, which not only includes a showroom gallery of more than 60 refrigeration solutions but also includes a significant focus on enhanced lab capabilities for better testing and a training facility in which our customers can participate, we are more committed than ever to offer added value to our customers’ business to include product development centered on improving sustainability.”
Providers of refrigerated and freezer cases and LED lighting manufacturers have been collaborating on improving energy efficiency.
Combining doors with an LED upgrade can vastly improve case efficiency, observers say. “It really is a compelling case that retailers can save up to 70% of their energy costs by making those changes,” says Terry Roberts, U.S. market development director for Cork, Ireland-based Nualight, which has U.S. offices in Dallas. She says the company provides case lighting for Hussmann and Kysor/Warren.
“LED case lighting, once just an alternative to T8 fluorescent tubes, has become a mandatory element of nearly all new cases, as a result of the 2012 U.S. Department of Energy regulations that took effect last Jan. 1,” says Zero Zone’s Petersen.
The use of LEDs continues to expand, say observers. “We have successfully implemented lighting strategies and products within the specific lighting applications of track, refrigeration, cold storage areas, prep areas and display lighting,” says Bryan Warner, vice president of sales and operations for Largo, Fla.-based ElectraLED.
There are a number of areas that are targets for future expansion of the use of LEDs, he says. “The closest category of lighting within reach of LED technology is in the replacement of the high, mid and low-bay lighting for the general retail floor area,” Warner say. “LED troffer and fluorescent replacement lamps and systems are in line to become viable alternatives to the conventional lighting sources.”
He says that advances in LED driver technology, passive and active thermal management systems are being implemented by ElectraLED to further raise the bar of efficiency standards, and to extend the life cycles of the products.
Warehousing is an often-overlooked opportunity for efficient lighting. “Many companies are resigned to relying on electrical contractors to change, repair and replace fluorescent and incandescent fixtures frequently throughout the year,” says Susan Fowler, retail brand manager for East Cleveland, Ohio-based GE Lighting. “An LED lighting system, on the other hand, can dramatically reduce energy use while extending the time between maintenance cycles by years.”
With the recent acquisition of Boulder, Colo.-based Albeo Technologies, a privately held LED fixture manufacturer, Fowler says GE is now positioned to help customers move even more aggressively toward an all-LED commercial building envelope in new construction and retrofits—particularly for industrial high-bay installations common in warehouses and distribution centers.
It is important to provide an individualized approach when talking to retailers about their sustainability objectives, observers say. “We’ve developed new educational materials that address supermarkets specifically, offering a department-by-department approach to lighting upgrades, ranging from the parking lot and storage areas to produce and the center aisles,” says Randy Dollar vice president, systems and LED, for Nashville, Tenn.-based Universal Lighting Technologies. “And we recognize that no two stores are exactly alike. We work with our grocery store clients one-on-one to design a customized lighting system that fits their specific sustainability goals, and we work directly with their installation contractor to ensure the execution is as perfect as the design.”
Even simple changes such as using fewer lamps can help to reduce electrical expenses, observers say.
“We’re doing a lot of delamping—removing unnecessary bulbs and/or fixtures,” says Lou DiDomenico, vice president of operations for Action Services Group, a provider of lighting, signage and electrical services and maintenance, based in Aston, Pa. “There are instances, for example where you can go from a four-lamp fixture to a two-lamp fixture.”
He also says some of the T8 and T5 fluorescent fixtures are more efficient than older fixtures.
Daylighting can also help boost the overall lighting while saving on energy. “With effective use of daylighting, you can have a reduced number of light fixtures in the store without having an impact on the customer experience,” says Dale Clouser, Action Services Group’s director of marketing.
Observers say the next step will include automated controls that monitor overall energy use and adjust lighting levels based on the time of day and brightness of the sun coming in from skylights, for example.
Adding controlled intelligence to lighting systems in the form of scheduled dimming, occupancy sensing, daylight harvesting, demand response and even linking all building systems together through a full building management system can demonstrate a true commitment to sustainability practices,” says Dollar.
Give shoppers a charge
Supermarkets might want to give their customers a charge—not in the form of plastic but a charging station for their electric vehicles. Officials for ECOtality, a San Francisco-based provider of electric vehicle charging stations, say the stations can encourage longer shopping trips and help boost the store’s eco-friendly image.
“The average shopper spends 45 minutes, but shoppers using charging stations spend on average an additional half hour in the store,” says Brian Koontz, ECOtality’s national accounts manager. “It can also have an impact on what store a shopper driving an electric vehicle chooses. They may pass over one store in favor of another that has a charging station.”
He says the charging stations have 7-inch interactive screens that can be programmed with marketing messages specific to the store. “Supermarkets can use it as another way to get customers excited about a new product or promotion as they enter the store and build loyalty.”
In addition, supermarkets that install charging stations can be eligible for points toward their LEED certification. “ For more information, visit www.ecotality.com.