10427 The Retailer Autumn 2018_Final Draft Pages
Tackling the Transition to Natural Refrigerants
Eric Winandy Director, Integrated Solutions Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions
IN HASTE TO REPLACE HARMFUL HFCS, RETAILERS SHOULD BE WARY OF RUSHING INTO NATURAL REFRIGERATION SYSTEMS THAT AREN’T TRULY SUSTAINABLE Don’t get me wrong, we’ve come a long way in becoming more environmentally sustainable. From reducing food waste to improving energy efficiency, industries like retail are making great strides in developing more sustainable solutions every day. From a climate change perspective, the hole in the ozone layer has made some recovery over the years and, perhaps more importantly, UN initiatives such as the Paris Agreement and Montreal Protocol have demonstrated that the world (Trump administration aside) can make and stick to a challenging decision for the global good. On the journey, it’s become abundantly clear that there are real pockets of challenge and opportunity to make more impact, faster. Collective global decisions are made. Action is agreed and enforced. But as industries and organisations, are we exploiting these environmental opportunities to their fullest – in ways that also make the greatest commercial sense? Turning up the heat on cleaner cooling The cleaning up of cooling systems is a prime, retail-relevant case in point. In 2016, delegates from around the world convened in Kigali for the 28th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol. It was agreed that hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs – which are used in the majority of commercial and residential cooling systems – were having a significant impact on global warming. Up to 4,000 times more potent than CO 2 , worldwide use of the refrigerant needed to be reduced, and replaced with more sustainable alternatives. The Kigali Amendment thus set in motion regulations that would phase-out HFCs completely, and support from the EU established an aggressive phase-down timeline for Europe. This poses a significant challenge for retailers, particularly those who rely on cooling to preserve food products, and need to transition all of their refrigeration systems before the HFC supply runs out; in 2019, the supply in Europe will effectively fall to 37% below its 2015 level, and will be cut by almost 80% by 2030. The good news is, those ahead of the game in the grocer sector seem to be making the inspired choice to replace HFCs with natural alternatives, rather than a stop-gap compromise that could face similar regulation in a few years. However, industry reports suggest widespread action is not only slow, but lacking considered strategic planning.
Consider this: • According to a survey last year of grocery retailers across France, Germany and the UK, 40% were not fully aware of EU F-gas regulation; • Nearly half of respondents (44%) of the same survey said their business hadn’t started to make the shift away from HFC refrigerants, or were unsure if they had; • And according to a report by the Birmingham Energy Institute at the University of Birmingham, the rise in HFC prices and pressure to change could prompt grocers to “hasty rather than considered decision making” which poses risk. It is extremely important retailers make the right refrigeration choices as they transition away from HFCs, because the technologies adopted will be in service for up to 15 years. This has massive implications for future environmental performance and operations within stores. Despite the time pressures, that choice must involve consideration of more than just which refrigerant is used. It needs to factor in what system provides the optimum long term solution, which is sustainable in every sense. CO2 refrigeration is the popular choice, but not always the right one As natural alternatives to HFCs are considered, there are two primary solutions available – CO2 and hydrocarbons such as propane. So far, most food retailers seeking to phase-down HFC refrigerants have chosen CO2 systems, and only a handful such as Waitrose have opted for hydrocarbon integral systems. It’s understandable why retailers are opting for CO2 as a seemingly obvious choice: the architecture of CO2 refrigeration systems is similar to the HFC systems they replace, and CO2 is significantly less harmful on the environment. However, despite these benefits, research has found retailers could be missing out on significant cost savings by opting for CO2, rather than hydrocarbon systems. Because the latter are far more like a domestic fridge, they can be cheaper to install, easier to maintain and more energy efficient. In fact, independent analysis by an institute of air handling and refrigeration in Germany found a retailer could save up to £45,600 per store over a 10 year period by opting for a hydrocarbon system. That is the kind of savings that could get your CEO’s attention, particularly when you consider that most chains operate thousands of retail locations.
28 | autumn 2018 | the retailer
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