Navigating the Co2 Challenge: Grocery Retail tackles Green Refrigerants

By Kyle Payne, Head of USA Retail Sales, Lowe Rental

Refrigeration? The asset every modern grocery retailer can’t operate without, one of largest sources  of maintenance spend for retailers and one of the highest producers of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) due to the refrigerant gases these systems use. For the past 10 years a tried and tested refrigeration technology has been available on the market that lowers emissions, reduces energy costs, and limits maintenance needs – combating the disadvantages of the past. According to research over 40,000 retail stores across Europe use this technology while in the United States, less than 1,000 utilize the ‘new’ natural refrigerant technology within their refrigeration estates.

The technology uses naturally occurring substances, such as C02, to reduce the GHG of that system and will change the sustainability landscape of the grocery industry. Commonly cited for its high energy use and contributions towards climate change, the grocery industry has long struggled with improving its sustainability performance.

Natural refrigerant technology incorporates new hardware, control systems and refrigerants that can finally allow grocers to contribute positively towards climate change. Refrigerants are all rated on their “global warming potential” or GWP. The higher the rating, the greater the impact the refrigerant will have on climate change. Most U.S supermarkets use refrigerants with a GWP between 2,000 and 3,900. Natural refrigerants, like C02, have a GWP of 1.

Natural refrigerant technology allows grocers to contribute positively towards climate change, yet the adoption in the United States is less than 1,000 stores compared to over 40,000 retail stores across Europe.

The reason for the difference in the adoption of natural refrigerant technology between the U.S retailers and European operators is primarily due to two factors.

Firstly, the adoption of natural refrigerants in the U.S has been slow, due to regulatory inconsistencies. However, this is changing quickly. New regulations, such as the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act (AIM) and state-level regulations such as California Air Resources Board (CARB), will accelerate the adoption of natural refrigerants in the U.S.

These regulations set limits on the total GWP of a grocery retailer's refrigeration systems, with many of the limits taking effect in 2025. Because of these regulations and timelines, many grocers will have to rapidly incorporate this technology into their store fleet amid a perfect storm of supply chain delays, labor shortages and inflation.

Secondly, natural refrigerants can be difficult to retrofit into existing store locations, while trying to maintain trading levels. Upgrading a store to use natural refrigerants is a complex, difficult and disruptive task, as it requires new compressors, piping, cases, and control systems, and reworking the entire store's mechanical infrastructure. Like the experience of living in a home (including holding gatherings, parties, etc.) while replacing all the piping, electrical, appliances, and HVAC units. This can be difficult for anyone, but it is necessary for retailers to make this change.

While challenging to implement, the results of these upgrades are an undeniable win with some supermarkets seeing as much as a 25% reduction in energy costs after upgrading to natural refrigerants. With properly trained technicians, natural refrigerant technologies are easier to maintain as the hardware and control systems to run them are more robust. Lastly, because the refrigerant used in natural refrigerant technology is a naturally occurring substance, grocery stores that adopt this technology can make a significant impact in reducing the effects of climate change.

The State of the GROCERY INDUSTRY 2023

FEB 2023