11. 19. 2015

Tackling Energy Waste in Grocery

In the commercial building space, grocery stores rank #1 for electricity intensity, having a higher electricity cost per square foot than even health care facilities. In terms of operating expenses, end-use energy is the second greatest expense after labor for food retailers. It should come as no surprise that a good deal of the industry’s voracious appetite for energy is due to refrigeration.

In fact, it’s the single greatest electricity load across the industry. According to data from the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) presented in the Advanced Energy Retrofit Guide for Grocery Stores, refrigeration systems account for up to 60 percent of electricity usage. As consumer demand for fresh and frozen foods continues to grow, so will electricity intensity, with more store space devoted to refrigerated display cases.

Another important factor is the complexity of the grocery store environment. To create and maintain optimal store conditions, the building’s systems essentially work against each other. General illumination competes with lighting used to enhance merchandising. Refrigeration competes with maintaining comfortable aisle temperatures for customers. Seasonal and daily weather variables further complicate the mix, affecting loads on refrigeration and HVAC systems. When any one of a store’s systems isn’t operating optimally – at designed specifications – it affects the performance of the other systems and the overall store environment.

It also significantly drives up energy consumption and expenses. In refrigeration systems alone, migration away from designed set points can add more than $15,000 to a store’s electric bill over the course of a year. This is wasted energy that eats directly into store profits. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that every dollar saved in electricity has the same impact on profit as increasing sales by $18.* Another way of looking at this is every dollar spent unnecessarily on energy is equivalent to losing $18 in sales. Improving energy efficiency is imperative to protect grocers’ already thin profit margins, and recommissioning — restoring a system to its original designed specifications — is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce energy consumption and improve system performance and the store environment.

Approaches to recommissioning

In the Advanced Energy Retrofit Guide for Grocery Stores, the DOE recognizes store recommissioning as the foundation of an effective energy-efficiency strategy. It can differ in frequency and scope across stores, but however it’s implemented, there are gains to be had.

Whole-store recommissioning

According to the DOE a full-building tune-up can reduce energy usage by an average of 16 percent. Put another way, simply restoring a building to its original design specifications can reduce the electric bill by a median of $0.29 per square foot. Periodic recommissioning on this scale is the best way to ensure the building as a whole is performing optimally. At the very least, it should be done as a follow-up to any major change that impacts how a facility performs, such as installing new refrigeration display cases, systems or other equipment, retrofitting open cases with doors, and general remodeling.

A systems approach

Taking a staged or systems approach can be a good alternative for a given store or chain. Because refrigeration accounts for the lion’s share of total energy use across the food retail industry, starting here typically yields the greatest energy savings.

Identifying other energy improvement opportunities

The recommissioning process not only restores a facility and its systems to optimal performance standards, it also identifies additional improvement opportunities in refrigeration, lighting, and HVAC systems, which together account for 90 percent of total energy use across grocery stores. Improvements from a recommissioning effort focusing on these areas typically pay for themselves in about a year.

Benefits beyond energy

There are non-energy savings as well. When factoring in such benefits as improved thermal comfort and extended equipment life, the DOE estimates an additional median savings of $0.18 per square foot through periodic whole-store recommissioning.

Make utility rebates part of recommissioning and other energy improvement efforts

Many utility companies offer incentives specifically for recommissioning, as well as for other energy improvements, such as retrofitting open refrigerated cases with doors, installing anti-sweat heater controls, retrofitting freezers with low-heat or no heat doors, and upgrades for lighting and fan motors. On top of savings from reduced energy consumption, rebates and other incentives reduce overall project costs and time for simple payoff. In some instances, an improvement project can actually end up costing nothing after utility rebates are applied. Incentives won’t always provide this level of impact, but they are there for the taking and grocers should be benefiting from them.

Work with the right contractor

Incentive programs vary from state to state, region to region. Program specifics also change as new technologies are developed and come to market. Knowing what incentives are available, navigating the application and approval processes, and coordinating these logistics with those of in-store projects can be time consuming – even daunting – especially for retailers whose primary business is merchandising and selling groceries, not managing energy programs.

Working with a full-service contractor who specializes in energy improvements in grocery stores is one of the best ways to ensure seamless recommissioning and retrofit projects. Grocers should look for someone who is experienced in identifying and recommending high-impact, cost-effective improvements that are right for a particular store, who is knowledgeable in the energy-efficient technologies that qualify for incentives in a given region, and who can navigate the processes required for securing all the incentives that are available to them.

*It’s often cited that saving $1 in energy is equivalent to increasing sales by $59. While the DOE has reported that equivalency in the past (see the ENERGY STAR Building Manual), the value has recently been revised to an $18 increase in sales.

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Source: Supermarket News SNVoice November 17, 2015

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