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Published: Dec 11 2019

How to Manage Energy Use in Refrigeration

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What's in this episode?

In this episode of Facilities Management Coffee Talk, we discuss energy consumption associated with refrigeration and how to best control costs. If you are interested in more information about how to better manage your energy consumption see our blog post, 6 Ways to Impact Energy Spend in Grocery.

Full transcript:

Trey Simonton: Good morning everyone. Welcome to the second series of our facilities management coffee talks. My name is Trey Simonton and I am your host. As a reminder, I am new to the facilities and asset management space. I've spent the last six months flying around meeting with numerous industry veterans and many of our long standing clients. Coming out of that effort we thought we might share some interesting insights I am getting through a series of coffee talks. These are 15 to 20 minutes web and podcasts that we record but can be accessed at a later date if you choose to take your coffee to go. We hope this is a good digestible format that will allow you to tune in and get the information you like anytime you like it.
Trey Simonton: Today we have a returning guest. Adrian Turner is the director of IoT Professional Services at Accruent, and because we are seeing some interesting trends in grocery surrounding monitoring refrigeration units and the addition of coolers, really catering to new guest experiences, we've invited Adrian back. Welcome back. Adrian. Hope you had your coffee.
Adrian Turner: I did. Thanks Trey. It's good to be back with you today.
Trey Simonton: So Adrian, my daughter and I were in a series of grocery stores over the Thanksgiving holiday. That seems to be the way it always works. And we were noticing, and it's funny, she's 10 and even she was noticing that there's a lot more refrigeration units and coolers that seem to be serving perishable food items. To get started, can you share, is that a trend that you're seeing in grocery?
Adrian Turner: Yeah, your daughter's sharp. That's very definitely a trend that we're seeing more and more, as retailers are catering more towards convenience shopping. So, rather than a big weekly shop coming in, grabbing the food that you need for the day, or maybe even just for that meal in particular and dashing on to get about your day. That's definitely a growing trend that we've seen in the different markets that we service.
Trey Simonton: So is this about customer experience? Is this about a more efficient way of doing business? Where do you think that lands?
Adrian Turner: I think it's definitely a response to changing consumer demands. And customers are just very much more about, I need something, I need it now, I was going to grab it on the go, and stores quite rightly adjust responding to that change. And the big driver for those would be foods that would require some form of refrigeration, whether it's as simple as a cold drink on a hot day or a salad in a fridge. Just that type of food choice is becoming more and more prevalent.
Trey Simonton: So this has to pose new challenges for facilities teams. What are they having to face to manage all these additional refrigeration units?
Adrian Turner: Well, I think one of the big challenges that they face is just the cost of running these units. When we look at, or if you just broke it down and said, okay, we've got a refrigeration state in the stores, how is that? How does that come to be? Then typically they're put in by different teams, and so the team that builds and specifies the refrigeration equipment is different from the team that, once it's been delivered, has to maintain that equipment. Who, again, are different from the team within the organization that has to pay the energy bill at the end of each month. And those three teams might have very differing priorities and different objectives that they have to hit, and they don't necessarily complement each other straight out of the gate. So I think one of the things that we can do is just start to integrate those different teams and ways of thinking.
Trey Simonton: So that's good. So let's say I'm a store manager, and obviously I have a very different agenda than my facilities.
Adrian Turner: Yeah, you want to sell things.
Trey Simonton: Yes. So let's say I'm a store manager and I have a very different agenda than my facilities teams. What should I do when refrigerators are now taking much more power and causing above average energy use?
Adrian Turner: Yeah, I mean, let's just start by quantifying what this could be. Typically within a grocery, around 40% as a rough average, 40% of the energy spent within a store would go towards operating the refrigeration equipment. So it's a big number. It is the single biggest consumer of electricity within a typical store. So it's a big target to go after. The first thing that you can do, and it might be done in combination with some sort of technical or FM team, will be to baseline your own operations.
Adrian Turner: So going back to what we were talking about, the specification team that I designed in building the refrigeration that's gone into the store, well, that would have had a couple of specifications. There would be the manufacturer specification of what the equipment can achieve. There would have been a design specification from the technical consultancy to say, okay, this is how it should all work in concert with each other. And then this is the approximate energy use, and once you know the price you're paying for your energy, you can get a baseline understanding of, say, in an idealized world, this is what we should be paying for energy each month. And that gives you a good starting point.
Adrian Turner: From there you can see where you're different from that ideal world. A very simple thing to do with no real expenditure or additional expenditure on controls you could try to do would just be simply do an audit of your set points. So retailers often think in terms of maximum temperatures for refrigerated goods. So if you think of milk for example, so if you need to keep something at 41 degrees, if you're actually keeping it 35 degrees, the food is still great. And as the operator, you're hitting your goal of serving your customer fresh food, but actually you're incurring unnecessary expense by running the refrigerator too hard. Are you over-chilling something where you don't need to?
Adrian Turner: And so there's potentially a win there of just lifting those set points up a little bit. And yet, across a single store, and then across an estate of stores, the cumulative effect of that can be quite dramatic there. There are other energy saving initiatives as well. Cabinets with doors, for example, are much more energy efficient than the old fashioned reach in, grab your item and walk on type refrigerators as well. So there are a number of different, very straightforward initiatives that you can hit straight out the gate before you even start to think of some more complicated energy programs.
Trey Simonton: Thanks Adrian. That's perfect. As I do, I like to take notes and I want to go back to one of the initial things you said to the store managers and profiling their store, getting to a baseline of operations. Is this something that they can do through end of month bills, like going back and looking at a history of bills, or does this need to start day one and then be a go forward baseline?
Adrian Turner: I would certainly say that, get as much historical data as you can, will help in any sort of program that you do. And it might not be necessarily the store manager. There might be some sort of central team that they're assisting with this. Certainly as much data as you can get, the better, because it will just give you a longer period of reflection effectively before you start on day zero of an energy optimization program. That could be done via end of month's bills, although that would be a fairly blunt tool. It would be better as a minimum to get half hourly readings from your, at least the the main meter into the store. If you have the luxury of having some sub-metering, even better, because you can see the more direct effect on discrete components of your stores, whether that's refrigeration or HVAC or bakery or BMS signage type deals.
Adrian Turner: That would be better, or somewhere in between those things, but it's only trying to get that half hourly meter data, either live or the next working day. Day plus one in the industry term. That would be ideal. That gives you a good solid base to build on as you go forward.
Trey Simonton: Got it. So I hear us talking about two things. I hear us talking about energy management, and how do you save on energy. But earlier you also got into set points, making sure that the refrigerations don't warm up. And yes, we save on energy, but you also don't want the food to go bad. And how do you establish those set points? How do you figure out what you should be monitoring there?
Adrian Turner: So the set points are typically a combination of a couple of things or the ideal set points. So firstly there would be the target temperature for the food that's in that. So when you're walking around the store with your daughter, you'll see that there are different types of food within the case, or there might be dairy in one and then meat in another type of case. And it's very rare, given enough space and given a certain sized store, that different types of product with different target temperatures would share the same space. So that would be the first thing.
Adrian Turner: The second point would be, okay, give it a target temperature. Then the manufacturer specifications of the fridge would say, these are the the ideal set points that you need to use to hit those. What we're saying is actually because, as the store manager, you're targeted with just providing fresh food to your customer. Quite rightly, we will prefer fresh food. You can err on the side of caution and just run those things too aggressively, unnecessarily.
Adrian Turner: So the first thing we're to do would be to take an objective look at those set points and say, okay, actually they're set at A, but I can actually set them at B and still provide a fresh, unspoiled food product to my customers.
Trey Simonton: So that's interesting. I actually grabbed on to what you said about manufacturer specifications. Are sensors that we would use to monitor these refrigeration units and coolers, are these there today? Or is this something... you know, my listeners, Adrian always asked me, do I have to go out and buy a bunch of infrastructure, or can I do some of these kind of proactive things based on what I have in place today?
Adrian Turner: Yeah. So if we split out into two pieces on the energy side, absolutely you've probably got most of what you need there today and certainly on your main energy meter. There should be some mechanism for getting that data, and if there isn't, talk to your provider or the team that maintains the meters. If you didn't want to go to the expense of installing a sub-meter in the store, then you could achieve a similar sort of result by adding CTs to the actual asset itself.
Adrian Turner: Now you wouldn't do that to every asset. You would do enough to get a representative sample and you could extrapolate the results and say, okay, I've got manufacturer A, B, and C, and I've monitored those in two or three different stores so I can, by multiplying that up across the number of these cases across the entire state, this is roughly my baseline. So you could do like that.
Adrian Turner: The second part of your question, if we move away from energy just to operation in terms of probes and sensors and such like, a lot of cases that come out of manufacturers now already have the what we would say a minimum five sets of sensors already installed. They might not be hooked up to anything, but because they only cost a few dollars, they actually come pre-installed with with the cases.
Adrian Turner: So you might have a lot of these sensors already installed, just not necessarily automatic, or just aren't using them. If you do, then it's a relatively straightforward task to link them through to a package such as vx Observe.
Trey Simonton: Okay. So that takes us to the next thing, which is kind of interesting. Breaking it down and making it simple, if I'm an operations lead, if I am a facilities director, do I start by assessing what I have and then go out and find some type of a monitoring service that can monitor all these sensors? What would be the two or three steps you would recommend to our listeners on how they get started, and how they make a decision to really initiate this type of a campaign?
Adrian Turner: Sure. So I would say specialized software is gonna make your life infinitely easier. You could just implement some sort of solution just in Excel for example, but actually the benefits and efficiencies that you gain from having a specialized software platform for these is incalculable.
Adrian Turner: Extending on that, the next thing I would say is look for a software package that can actually take in all your building's data. So there are many around that will just do energy management, or just do refrigeration monitoring, or just do weather monitoring. Actually, for your operating unit, none of those systems exist, or none of those sort of applications exist in a silo, right? Your HVAC and BMS influences where your refrigeration can run. That's influenced by the external weather. All that has an impact on how much energy you're drawing through the meter. So try and look for a holistic platform that can do, once you've identified that, then absolutely figure out where you are right now. That would be the first point. Go back if you can from your existing relationships with your meter provider and get as much historical energy data as you can.
Adrian Turner: For example, if we just focused on energy for a second, I would say two years is a good base minimum, but if you can get up to five that's even better. That would give you a number of years to look back on. It evens out any particular annual peaks and troughs from extreme weather or whatever that might look like, and just gives you a better average to work with. Once you have that, you have some sort of a historical point of comparison. And then you can start to put together, okay, I know what I've done in the past, what does my end state look like? And whether that's working with a consultant or whether you have the expertise on your team come up with, okay, here's my store profile. I've got this much HVAC, this much refrigeration, what should my baseline be by hour of the day?
Adrian Turner: So obviously you'd expect to use more energy at peak trading times rather than 3:00 AM in the morning, for example. Just by virtue, nobody's in the door yet. You're not running lights, you're not running HVAC to the same point, whatever that might look like. And once you have that, then you can start saying, okay, how am I actually performing against those baselines? And then through tools, for example, in vx Observe, we have tools to help weather normalize those baselines as well, or take previous actual consumption and apply it as a baseline for future periods. And so that would be a good place to figure out. You can't improve what you can't measure and understand where you're at. So that would certainly be point number one for any sort of initiative like this.
Trey Simonton: So that's helpful. So let me play back what I heard cause you just covered a lot.
Adrian Turner: Yes, sorry.
Trey Simonton: No, you're just fine. That's great. vx Observe is the Accruent solution that you and your team implemented, sounds like on behalf of a number of grocers out there.
Adrian Turner: Yes.
Trey Simonton: What I heard you say is that our listeners should take a bit of a consultative approach, invite in an outside organization to really assess their environment, help them with historical data and look at where they're facing energy loss, and then recommend kind of almost a phased approach with a go forward solution. Is that correct?
Adrian Turner: Yeah, absolutely. You've hit the nail on the head.
Trey Simonton: And do you charge for that upfront? So let's say one of our listeners said, "Hey, I want to get started." Is that something that you charge for in the beginning, or do charges come down the road?
Adrian Turner: Charges typically come down the road. So, and it's important to say, our specialty is in the software solutions that enable this. But what it would say, from the experience of many long standing relationships with retailers across the world, is we are not interested in the short term. We're not just looking to come put a solution in and then clear off. We walk with our customers on every step of this particular journey, and where we are in one year, two year, three years down the line is not where we started out.
Adrian Turner: So each month, each half year, each year, we're looking for continual incremental progress over where we were before, much like the customers that would take this solution would be expected of from their own business as well. So you save x percent one year, okay, what are we going to save the next year? And then that's a collaborative approach to, you know, we can provide the tools to help our customers achieve those objectives.
Trey Simonton: Well, Adrian, that's outstanding. We are right up against the end of our 20 minutes, and I do have one last question for you based on what you just said right there at the end. Now you're into out years, right? And now the client has gone through a journey. Our listeners are really happy with where they've seen energy spent. How do they continue to keep getting efficiencies? How can you maintain that average unit energy spend over time?
Adrian Turner: Yeah, so I would say the big thing there is once you have those technical solutions, like for example, we've mentioned set points optimization a couple of times. We can only see that optimize your set points when it's right, when it's their optimum. After that, once you've taken that low hanging fruit, one of the key things is actually to drive that behavioral change across the organization. So for example, if you have those blinds fitted in your store that you can pull down during non-trading times, make sure store staff are actually doing so at the end of the night. And there are ways to detect whether that's the case.
Adrian Turner: But managing energy spend is everyone's responsibility within the environment. Whether that's turning off lights at the end of the day, whether that's not overruling HVAC systems, it really is doing that. And then you have the tools behind it. Like, I'm biased, I talk about vx Observe a lot. But if you have a tool like vx Observe, they can stand behind that process and sort of provide the carrot approach to incremental behavior improvement, then that's really a good way to drive those efficiencies forward every year as you're building on the progress that you've made in the previous periods.
Trey Simonton: Yeah, we've heard that a lot, Adrian, find a solution that helps you sustain the value and enforce these new processes so that you can maintain that. That's huge.
Adrian Turner: Yeah, absolutely. And we can benchmark against, you know, peers within the estate as well. So once you correct energy usage for size of store, maybe you'd normalize energies per square foot or whatever that might be. So we can help with bench marking tools as well. So if I'm the manager of a large format store, I can see how my peers are doing with us. It informally creates a healthy competitive environment there as well to try and be at the top of the leader board.
Trey Simonton: Well, Adrian, thank you. I promised you we wouldn't take more than 20 minutes, and we are there. I appreciate we covered an adventure I had with my daughter all the way to how to now derive incredible savings for our listeners in energy and refrigeration. So thank you for the time today.
Adrian Turner: It's a pleasure. Anytime.
Trey Simonton: All right. To our listeners, series two of our coffee talks will continue. We look forward to some more feedback. If you have any questions for Adrian, please share it online and we will follow up and share any responses and answers to your questions that Adrian might have. Have a good day.
Adrian Turner: Thank you.

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