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Shopping for greener alternatives

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The latest Chilling Facts report from the EIA highlights the lack of consensus amongst retailers in finding a solution to their reliance on the refrigerant R404A. Neither, it appears, do they agree on whether fitting doors to cabinets is an impediment to sales.

PlantWatch-PRO-300x600With a phase-down of HFCs in Europe now agreed and with similar regulatory noises being made in the US and even Japan, the days of high GWP HFCs are definitely numbered. R404A, the standard supermarket refrigerant, is particularly threatened, with a service ban on systems containing this gas being introduced in Europe in 2020.

In an effort to improve their green credentials, and perhaps with a an eye on the possibility of just such a ban being introduced, the supermarkets have been trialling and installing a range of different alternative systems and a range of lower GWP alternatives in recent years. With the European F-gas phase-out clock activated, the race is now definitely on for supermarkets to find solutions and stay ahead of the bans.

One of the best and most concise records of the supermarkets’ progress towards low GWP systems is provided by the annual Chilling Facts report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). Although by no means comprehensive, it provides a snapshot of what is, or is not, happening with refrigeration systems in retail, refrigerated transport and distribution centres.   

According to the latest report – the sixth – the past two years has seen the number of stores in Europe using natural refrigerants grow from 730 to 1889 amongst the retailers surveyed.

The earlier Shecco report on natural refrigerants, published at the beginning of the year, revealed a total of 2,885 transcritical stores in Europe in 2013 – an increase of 117% on 2012. In addition, CO2 was being employed in cascade systems with other refrigerants in 1,662 stores last year.

What is immediately apparent from the EIA report, however, is the lack of a consensus amongst retailers of the ideal solution to the R404A replacement problem. Transcritical CO2, HFC/CO2 cascade systems, hydrocarbon and ammonia secondary systems and hydrocarbon plug-ins have all been trialled and/or adopted to greater or lesser degrees.

The seeming preference by some for HFC/CO2 hybrid systems irritates the EIA who, as a “green” group, see the use of any HFCs as merely a stepping stone to 100% natural alternatives. The UK’s Marks & Spencer and Dutch retailer Royal Ahold come in for particular criticism from the report compilers: “Their ongoing reliance on HFC/CO2 hybrid technology and failure to move HFC-free refrigeration trials forward at an adequate pace, despite their commitments to going HFC-free from 2015.”

10261028_sRoyal Ahold now has 262 European stores using HFC/CO2 hybrids, according to the EIA, and only three stores using transcritical CO2. Marks & Spencer has 84 stores now using natural refrigerants, mostly HFC/CO2 hybrids.

But they are not alone. While Aldi Süd has 234 CO2 transcritical systems in its German shops, HFC/CO2 cascades are now standard for all its new Austrian stores and have been rolled out across 111 German stores. German retailer Kaufland has 99 stores using HFC/CO2 hybrid systems.

Despite this, transcritical remains the dominant alternative with hydrocarbons the common choice for plug-ins.

Doors

Neither is there a consensus amongst supermarkets on the issue of whether or not to install cabinet doors. Despite the apparent energy saving benefits, many retailers still see them as an impediment to sales.

In the UK, the Co-Operative Group has installed doors in over 200 stores while Tesco has installed doors in 50% of its Express stores and over half of all new Metro stores. However, according to the EIA, Tesco has not installed doors in any of its larger UK stores, even though outside the UK 71% of its stores have doors on fridges.

In other European states, Musgrave stores in Ireland now use doors in all new stores and refurbs, while Carrefour has introduced doors on fridges in 173 stores in France. Delhaize has made doors on fridges standard in all new stores in Belgium and the US, and fitted doors on fridges in all stores in Belgium and Luxembourg. In Spain, El Corte Inglés uses doors on fridges in 20% of stores, Portuguese retailer Jerónimo Martins has doors in 105 stores, while Migros has doors on fridges in 112 of its stores. Royal Ahold appears to be the biggest enthusiast for doors. Most of its European stores are now fitted out with doors and there are plans to make this 100% by 2015.

The report is available for download here.

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