What makes Food Lion an Energy Star?
The Salisbury, N.C.-based chain, which operates more than 1,200 stores, is the only supermarket company to earn Energy Star partner awards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, demonstrating a commitment to energy conservation, in six consecutive years: 2002 through 2007. That includes Energy Star Partner of the Year Awards in 2002 and 2003, as well as Sustained Excellence Awards in 2004 through 2007, with this year's award coming just last month.
On top of that, more than 600 Food Lion stores have received individual Energy Star recognition for meeting stringent energy savings criteria — the most of any food retailer. The company plans to add 100 stores per year until every Food Lion store achieves Energy Star status, said Gina Rye, energy manager for Food Lion. Most of the other stores already qualify.
As Susan Sollenberger, Food Lion's director of equipment purchasing, explains it, there is no magic to Food Lion's success in energy conservation. The basic strategy is close attention to the details of energy management — making sure every store system operates at maximum efficiency while instilling conservation discipline among store employees. “It's a bunch of little things that we've sustained over the years,” she said.
Since Food Lion's energy management program “really started to grow” in 2000, the chain has reduced energy consumption by 27%, said Rye. This has helped blunt the impact of rising energy costs during the same period.
At Food Lion and other energy-efficient food retailers, energy management relies partly on a careful analysis of energy consumption within stores, and partly on technology that monitors and controls store systems.
It usually starts with analysis. In Food Lion's case, its utility billing vendor, Advantage IQ, Spokane, Wash., feeds billing data into a database that can be used to identify stores with energy problems. “We look at why those stores are running high [in energy consumption] and what we can do to reduce it,” said Sollenberger. “Is it an operational issue or a technical issue? Then we work with the store. This has been huge for us.”
Rye said the billing database is the “backbone” of Food Lion's energy management program. “I always preach to people starting their energy management programs that without that [database], you don't know where you've been or where you're going or how you're doing.”
Billing data is also employed in another productive tactic for Food Lion — “demand management,” which is now in place at 400 stores, with 200 more high-demand stores slated for this year.
In demand management, special monitors at stores track the number of kilowatt-hours of energy expended. Each store has a peak “threshold” of energy usage, based on billing records. When energy usage reaches the threshold level — perhaps on a hot summer day — the system begins to “shed energy load,” turning off equipment to bring the energy level down. “We know the average usage for that store, and we don't want to climb above that,” Rye noted. The most customers would see might be a slight dimming of lights.
Demand management can be a “major factor” in controlling utility costs, explained Rye, because utility companies use peak energy usage as the baseline for billing.
Food Lion also has energy technicians check most of its stores to make sure equipment is operating as efficiently as possible. In addition, the chain fields a team of eight energy specialists who go to stores in need of energy upgrades. “You can build a store to be energy-efficient, but if you don't check it several times per year, its efficiency can become poor,” said Rye.
Food Lion also pushes the vendors that supply it with energy-related equipment — lighting, cases, compressors and condensers — “to make sure their equipment is as energy-efficient as possible,” said Rye. Added Sollenberger: “When we bid on equipment, we look at the total cost of ownership. A piece of equipment could have great pricing, but in a year that's consumed in energy costs.”
The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), Fort Lee, Va., which operates 263 food commissaries around the world (including 171 in the U.S.), also relies on energy consumption data to identify underperforming stores. Each of the commissaries, which average 55,000 square feet, sends utility bill and other energy-related data (such as gas, propane and oil usage) to Reynolds, Smith, and Hills, of Jacksonville, Fla. RS&H uses the data to create an Energy Utilization Index (EUI) for each store.
RS&H compiles the data in quarterly and annual energy usage reports for DeCA, allowing the agency to “target the high users” among its stores, said Carroll Shepherd, agency energy and environment manager. DeCA divides its stores into three regions worldwide, each having a “utility task force” responsible for addressing energy issues at stores.
For the commissaries, in most cases energy is provided by the base on which the store is located; the base in turn buys the energy from a local power company. This arrangement, which is not regulated, can lead to errors in billing that RS&H and the utility task forces uncover as they examine stores with unusually high energy bills. These errors can stem from inaccurate energy meters at stores or from incorrect estimates of energy use for stores that lack meters. At the Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, one remodeled store used a master meter for the entire store as well as a meter that looked only at the refrigeration system. “The base was reading both meters, which caused a $70,000 error,” said Shepherd. “We caught it and they reimbursed us.”
In the East Region, encompassing the eastern half of the U.S. plus Puerto Rico, DeCA has been able to save $2.4 million since 1998, mostly by correcting metering-related issues, said Shepherd. Overall, DeCA has cut energy use 14.8% since 1995. According to the latest executive order issued this year, the agency is now required to reduce energy consumption 3% annually.
After confirming that billing for energy usage is correct, DeCA employs RS&H to perform “energy audits” of stores to determine if any systems are flawed. In one instance, a store at a base in Virginia Beach, Va., had controls that were not configured to cut off major air-handling fans at night. This year, DeCA expects to start installing energy management systems to monitor energy usage in real time, said Shepherd.
“DeCA has all kinds of controls in the stores, but they don't always get implemented the way they should,” said Paul Hutchins, aerospace and defense program leader, RS&H. “So we try to fix what was designed for the stores.”
Working with RS&H, DeCA also runs two-day training classes two times per year or more in each region to instruct store managers on energy management and in understanding a refrigeration maintenance contract. “We teach them about lighting, refrigeration and HVAC so they can speak the maintenance contractor's language,” said Shepherd.
RS&H has also developed a performance-based maintenance contract for DeCA's refrigeration and HVAC contractors, said Hutchins. When implemented, contractors will be evaluated by a store's EUI or the number of emergency calls a store requires.
DeCA has written a “sustainable design” handbook, incorporating guidelines from the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, Washington. The agency is also developing a computer template for use in energy-efficient commissary design.
Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo. (which is being acquired by Whole Foods Market), is taking a different approach to energy management than Food Lion and DeCA. Rather than ranking its stores, the natural foods retailer is reprogramming all of its 110 stores for greater energy efficiency. Two stores are used to test efficiency strategies before they are applied to other stores.
Wild Oats began this process in August 2004. By August 2006, energy-saving measures were taken at 20 stores, including four new units, as well as at a new refrigerated warehouse outside of Riverside, Calif., said Gary Epright, national director of maintenance and energy management. In that two-year period, he noted, the company cut energy usage by 4.4 million kWh of electricity, which translated into a cost savings of $512,369, as well as rebates from utility companies worth another $453,120. Wild Oats has since reprogrammed 15 more stores.
Epright described Wild Oats' energy management system, E2, from Emerson Climate Technologies, St. Louis, as the heart of the store savings program. E2, which is in 15 of the 20 reprogrammed stores, monitors and controls a store's refrigeration, HVAC, lighting and other devices and systems — both Emerson's own systems and those of other vendors. (The other stores use older Emerson controls.) Stores each use between two and five E2 controllers, which average about $2,400 apiece. Epright gave a number of examples of how the system has helped cut energy costs.
The E2 system, for example, controls the “antisweat” heating devices in freezer doors, which prevent them from frosting up. The E2 system will turn the devices on or off based on the amount of humidity in the store, said Epright.
E2 also controls the pressure in Wild Oats' refrigeration compressors. By maintaining a lower pressure in the supply of refrigerant, “you minimize the amount of energy required to run the compressor,” said Epright. In addition, the system allows the temperature of the refrigerant supply to “float” to a higher level without affecting the case temperature, thereby reducing energy usage.
In other examples, E2 works with Wild Oats' daylighting of stores, cutting back on electrical lighting when possible. It controls the air conditioning, raising the temperature setting when fewer people are in a store.
Wild Oats also employs Emerson's ProAct Service Center, a remote monitoring service that monitors energy equipment in stores at all times. The center contacts the store manager when it detects a problem, leaving it up to the manager to request a service call. “This is our checks-and-balances system so we don't make unnecessary service calls,” said Epright.
The E2 system has enabled Wild Oats to qualify for a number of rebates from utilities, particularly in California. One rebate was earned as a result of the floating-temperature capability in the refrigerant supply.
Wild Oats plans to use E2 to rank its stores' energy consumption in the future, said Epright.
“We need to do the same things in our stores, but with less energy,” he said. “The energy constraints we're facing — higher costs, less supplies of fossil fuels — are not going away. And by using less energy, we get rebates, spend less on the electric bills and help the environment. When you look at it that way, you say, ‘Why aren't we doing that?’”
Supermarkets for some time have used energy management systems to monitor and control equipment in their stores. But over the past few years, a new type of service has emerged that tries to predict what may go wrong in a store and take action preemptively, not just after the fact.
Aztec Energy, Conyers, Ga., which was acquired by Danfoss late last year, is an energy management services company that analyzes energy consumption data from utility bills and electronic controls in order to “catch problems in equipment before they break down,” said Jim Boyle, vice president, food retail for Danfoss, which, along with Emerson Climate Technologies, St. Louis, is a major provider of electronic energy management systems for supermarkets.
Aztec, whose retail customers include Albertsons and B.J.'s, is able to “dig deeper” into potential problems with equipment than conventional energy management systems can, according to Boyle. “When you look through the data to analyze trends, you might find the problem is deteriorating equipment,” he said.
Another company, Prenova, Marietta, Ga., also taps into utility bills and energy management systems in order to proactively “look for signs of performance degradation,” said Ed Smith, chief executive officer. “Once you get to alarms [from energy management systems], you're already into degradation.” Prenova, only four years old, monitors about 9,000 stores operated by large national chains in the supermarket, drug store, restaurant and general retail sectors.
Prenova keeps a large database of equipment operating specifications, against which it can measure equipment being used at stores. “We can do an assessment of your store assets and can tell if there's an asset performance issue or an issue with compliance to a store's business rules,” Smith said. “We do a deep dive into assets and peel back layers of performance.”
Last November, Prenova introduced a statistical portfolio profile, whereby it looks at a chain's energy usage across all of its stores and determines which are operating below and above the median. “Then the chain can make changes and run the same analysis,” said Smith.