According to the U.S. Small Business Association, cooling costs can account for up to 60% of total electricity consumption in facilities that rely on commercial refrigeration.
The bad news: walk-ins, reach-ins and display cases—essential elements in grocery stores—are among the biggest energy wasters. However, the good news is that this area represents a huge opportunity to increase energy efficiency.
Energy efficiency in action
When Boise Co-op opened a second location in 2015, the leadership team noticed energy costs were much lower than at the flagship store.
“This reaffirmed our belief that we needed to do some equipment upgrades,” said Mo Valko, director of marketing and merchandising. “There have been so many advancements in refrigeration technology in the past 10 years. Upgrading was an investment up front, but in the long run, it pays for itself in terms of incredible energy savings.”
The co-op also worked with the local power company to perform an energy audit, a service typically offered for low or no cost.
“That can be a great way to get the most bang for your buck as far as savings. Maybe it’s not refrigeration, maybe it’s lighting—they can help you determine where your business is wasting energy and offer solutions.”
Valko said there are also aesthetic benefits to the new system.
“They look nicer, are more modern, and have sensor lights. When no one is in the aisle, the lights go out, and as someone walks down the aisle the lights come on. Customers really like it.”
If you’re looking to improve energy efficiency in your grocery operation, refrigeration should be at the top of the list of options to explore. Here, we offer seven key tips to get you started.
1. Keep doors closed.
Small improvements to refrigerator doors can dramatically increase energy efficiency. First, check the seals around the frame. Loose seals allow cold air to escape, which makes the motor run harder to keep the space cool. You should also check door gaskets and auto closers regularly to make sure they are in good working order. Otherwise, warm air can enter refrigeration compartments, leading to energy waste and food safety concerns.
2. Organize everything.
Make sure like items are grouped together in the cooler or freezer in order to maximize productivity once inside—units should be kept as full as possible without overfilling. Allow space for good airflow and employee movement.
2. Load cold items immediately.
Refrigeration units work harder to cool warm or room-temperature items. Make sure cold deliveries are unloaded immediately to avoid placing strain on your cooling system.
3. Give it some space
Just as you want good circulation inside the cooler, make sure the refrigeration system has enough space around the outside to ensure good airflow over the heat exchange coils (which should themselves be cleaned regularly).
4. LEDs for the win.
LED lighting offers a double whammy in terms of savings: not only do they consume less energy outright, they generate less heat, which means less electricity is needed to keep products cool. LEDs also improve visibility, especially in areas where customers tend to be more selective. The better that pricey steak looks under the light, the more inclined shoppers are to buy.
5. Close open display cases.
Open display cases can use up to four times as much energy as closed cases. It’s a big investment, but if you want to see significant energy savings month over month, this is your ticket. At the very least, install night curtains on open cases when the store is closed.
6. Upgrade your equipment.
When purchasing any new equipment, make sure it contains the EPA Energy Star logo. Energy Star certified appliances—including commercial refrigeration equipment—save operators a minimum of 30% on refrigeration costs from day one. This represents an enormous savings opportunity, especially if your equipment is in need of replacement anyway. Often, the cost of new refrigeration equipment can be offset by rebates and vouchers from local energy companies. Ask your equipment dealer for details.