DENVER — As energy costs and environmental issues loom ever larger on retailers' agendas, attendees at the Food Marketing Institute's Energy & Technical Services Conference here last week addressed a variety of concerns, ranging from the need for updated energy management systems and energy-efficient equipment to the potential of new refrigeration technology and the scarcity of qualified refrigeration technicians.
“We're trying to stay current on energy management systems so that we can find ways to shed more energy load,” said Susan Sollenberger, director of indirect purchasing (equipment, energy, maintenance, store services and supplies) for Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C., one of several attendees queried by SN on their energy priorities.
Graham Leary, vice president of strategic sourcing, Winn-Dixie, Jacksonville, Fla., said the retailer, continuing its turnaround from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, is putting together a more “holistic” energy strategy. “We need to work on maintenance costs and getting good controls and over time reducing our energy costs,” he said. “This conference is part of our effort to put together a comprehensive strategy toward energy management.”
FMI's Energy & Technical Services Conference, held at the Marriott Denver Tech Center, attracted 142 energy-management executives from food retailers, up from 125 last year, FMI reported. Overall, the conference, one of the association's more popular events in recent years, had more than 500 attendees.
Daryl Wolf, director of construction for Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., said his company was interested in “finding ways to tweak our systems through commissioning and using more energy-efficient equipment.”
Taking its lead from Publix Super Markets, which has installed back-up generators in hundreds of stores, Wegmans is also reconsidering how it should back up its stores' equipment in the event of a major snowstorm or electrical brownout. “We're wavering between partial and full generators,” he said. “And we're identifying key stores in each of our marketing areas that we will want to keep open.”
David Gryszowka, vice president of operations for Balls Food Stores, Kansas City, Kan., said that his nearly 30 stores are using energy-efficiency equipment, such as lighting controls, that have brought down utility costs in newer stores. Ball's is also trying to do more benchmarking of energy consumption in its stores.
Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, is looking into new HVAC, humidity control and other energy-efficiency equipment “to help us improve the store environment and create a better shopping experience,” said Bradley Morris, manager of engineering, Aetos Construction, a division of Giant Eagle.
NEW REFRIGERATION SYSTEMS
Refrigeration technology continued to be a key issue for retailers at the conference. For one thing, R-22, the most commonly used HCFC refrigerant in supermarket refrigeration, is being phased out due to its ozone-depleting nature. Beginning in 2010, no production or importing of R-22 will be allowed for new refrigeration equipment, according to federal statute. As a result, many retailers are converting their refrigeration systems from R-22 to non-ozone-depleting HFC refrigerants, though even those refrigerants contribute significantly to global warming when they leak into the atmosphere. Some are also looking into new refrigeration technology that uses much less HFC or HCFC refrigerant.
For example, Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, is considering a secondary-loop refrigeration system that uses propylene glycol to cool medium-temperature cases rather than traditional refrigerant, said Kevin Bromenshenk, construction project manager for Whole Foods.
Ray Agah, vice president of engineering for Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif., said he was exploring another alternative refrigeration technology — the so-called distributed system, which encompasses several small cooling units in a store to cut down on the need for piping and refrigerant.
In a recent study of secondary loop and distributed systems, the Environmental Protection Agency has found both to be a “viable alternative” to conventional DX systems, said Georgi Kazachki, Stratus Consulting, Boulder, Colo., who worked with EPA on the study.
Food Lion is already testing secondary loop systems. It is using a propylene glycol, medium-temperature system at one store in Dinwiddie, Va., and a carbon dioxide, low-temperature system at its Montpelier, Va., store. The chain plans to test both medium- and low-temperature secondary systems at a store in Portsmouth, Va., set to open in early 2008.
Over the past few months, Food Lion has determined that the low-temperature system secondary-loop has consumed 5% less energy than a conventional DX refrigeration system in a store of the same size, said Wayne Rosa, energy and maintenance manager for Food Lion. Because the analysis took place during the high-cost summer months, Rosa considers the 5% drop “a viable number.” However, Food Lion said in June that the medium-temperature system was consuming more energy than a conventional system.
Food Lion will get a better overall picture of a secondary loop system's total cost of ownership, including energy consumption, installation, maintenance and up-front costs, at its Portsmouth store, said Sollenberger.
The EPA is encouraging food retailers to explore alternative refrigeration systems and report on their findings via the EPA's GreenChill program.