SCHENECTADY, N.Y. -- Price Chopper Supermarkets here is making its new Albany superstore a showplace for energy-efficient systems.
The 82,000-square-foot store, which opened last month, uses gas-powered air-conditioning systems to reduce energy costs and a streamlined case wiring and piping system to minimize coolant charge and leakage rates.
"We're trying to minimize our refrigerant charge and our operating costs" storewide, said Benny Smith, director of engineering. He noted that the new store is among a handful of Price Chopper units to use chlorofluorocarbon-free R-404A refrigerant.
The Albany store marks Price Chopper's first use of a gas-powered air-conditioning system. "We're planning more stores with this type of system," Smith told SN. "Right now it's performed exceptionally well.
"It uses less energy because gas is cheaper than electricity," he added. "We're concerned about our utility costs in this area and we apply all the technology that gives us a reasonable return on investment."
The air-conditioning system, which can regulate the store environment by dehumidifying the air rather than cooling it, is well suited to the climate of many of Price Chopper's Northeastern stores, he said. "I feel like we're ready for this system in the Northeast," Smith said. "Standard air-conditioning systems don't appear to dehumidify stores up here. All we need for a lot of milder days is to simply remove the moisture from the air in the stores."
When outdoor conditions require more than dehumidification, CFC-free coolants are used in the store's air-conditioning system.
Moving to CFC-free air conditioning is in keeping with the retailer's goal to eliminate CFCs from most freezer cases by April 1996.
"There are some stores we don't want to convert that we're going to close in a year or two. We can keep those operating and we've recovered enough CFCs" to keep stores supplied with coolant after CFC production ceases on Dec. 31. The halt to CFC production is mandated by the Montreal Protocol, an international environmental agreement that calls for the phaseout of ozone-depleting coolants.
In the Albany store, Price Chopper uses a streamlined case wiring and piping system to complement its use of hydrofluorocarbons, Smith said.
The retailer is using electronic case controls, which greatly reduce the amount of wiring needed to link cases to the compressor room. "How you control coolants is key," he said. "Through electronic case controls, we're able to minimize the compressor run times. It's much more efficient."
Price Chopper has similarly streamlined its coolant pipes, using a loop system "where we run three to four loops and branch off of those lines, instead of running 30 to 40 different circuits out," he said. "That reduces the possibility of leaks and makes the compressor room less crowded."
The retailer plans to implement similar systems in future stores. "It's new and we've got a lot of bells and whistles, you might say, but we do expect a return on our investment."