How to keep food and goods fresh while decarbonizing our world

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Did you know June 26 was World Refrigeration Day? Arguably one of the most significant inventions of the modern world is refrigeration technology.

Refrigeration has revolutionized our world. When it became commonplace in homes and industry in the 1920s, for the first time it was possible to preserve food without using salt or canning techniques (both of which changed its flavor and nutritional profile). Soon heat pump-based refrigeration systems were used to cool offices, homes factories, and cars, opening a new world of comfort and improving the working conditions of millions of industrial workers. 

Nowadays, refrigeration technology is at the very heart of modern life. From your home to supermarkets, to keeping vaccines fresh, refrigeration is everywhere. When it comes to sustainability, however, refrigeration has a cost. It makes up a big part of our global carbon footprint, with supermarket refrigeration accounting for $60 billion in energy consumption annually. Another factor is fluorinated gases, greenhouse gases used to run refrigerators, which are very harmful to the ozone layer.

The quest to make refrigeration technology sustainable

What can we do about energy usage and the harmful fluorinated gases (F-Gases), including hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are used in refrigeration technology? Given that supermarkets generally have a profit margin of about 3% and energy prices across the world are on the rise, improving energy efficiency and thereby increasing operational efficiency is very important for them. There is also a shift towards natural refrigerants, which started with the Montreal protocol in 1987,  and on 30 March the European Parliament adopted the amendments to the regulations on fluorinated gas emissions, calling for a phase-down of HFCs in the European market starting in 2039 with a complete phase-out of their consumption and production by 2050.

I’m happy to report that at Schneider Electric we’re already phasing out F-Gases across our business, as well as in HVAC-R. We also have the solutions to help our customers do it too. One of our customers, Migros, a medium-sized supermarket in Switzerland wanted to use only natural refrigerants in their facilities. This meant eliminating F-Gases from the refrigeration, heating, and cooling systems used for the actual buildings. They also wanted to improve their energy efficiency, reliability, and maintenance support.

Improving operational efficiency and sustainability all-in-one

To help Migros achieve their goals we installed the Total Energy CO2 system with Eliwell DOMINO ZERO control solution. What’s unique about this solution is it performs heat pump and refrigeration control in one. This means that all their heating, cooling, and refrigeration requirements are managed more efficiently within one system. Last but certainly not least, it uses CO2 as a refrigerant, which is the most sustainable option for natural refrigerants currently available.

This solution is suitable for new installations and can also be retrofitted. It comes with various additional benefits:

  • One machine instead of two or three, which means:
  • Reduced space needed in the building
  • No fossil fuel is burned for winter heating and hot water
  • Single maintenance contract, with reduced maintenance costs
  • High reliability with standard refrigeration equipment
  • Higher reliability for HVAC system
  • Higher total efficiency
  • Lower total initial investment
  • Total natural solution for refrigerant

Why choose an integrated HVAC-R system?

Based on research by Eliwell, integrated systems can improve both COP (coefficient of performance) and energy efficiency. They can also have lower investment costs and maintenance costs when compared with traditional systems, which manage HVAC and refrigeration separately.

For Migros, it solved a lot of their challenges simultaneously. Instead of a separate gas heater, air conditioner, and refrigeration unit, they have just one machine, which takes up far less space overall. It also eliminates the use of natural gas fuel for heating, removing scope 1 carbon emissions from the equation and helping the customer on their overall sustainability journey. An integrated system also increases the efficiency of their maintenance and support over the lifespan of their system. If you consider that typically 50-55% of energy consumption for supermarkets is just for food refrigeration, and then HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) is about 25%, that means approximately 70-80% percent of energy is managed by this one system. This makes maintenance more efficient and effective, with fewer contractors to deal with, and fewer opportunities for things to go wrong.

There is no doubt that refrigeration and indeed heat pumps have changed the lives of humankind for the better. We firmly believe it’s possible to refrigerate the world in a way that helps us reach our sustainability goals, and we’re on a quest to help our customers achieve this. By using HVAC-R solutions that allow us to increase energy efficiency while electrifying and decarbonizing our world, and switching to natural refrigerants, we’re already making a lot of progress.

Learn more about sustainable HVAC-R solutions from Eliwell by Schneider Electric.

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