The Value of a Low-cost, No-cost Approach to Cold Storage Energy Efficiency
Refrigerated warehouses are extremely energy intensive. In fact, energy consumption typically represents the second-highest operating expense in these facilities, trailing only labor costs.
As cold storage companies seek to reduce the cost and environmental impact of their operations, they have two options. They can pursue capital improvement projects, which offer substantial savings but require investment in engineering, design, project management, and the purchase and installation of equipment. Or, they can work to improve the energy efficiency of their existing systems—often at little or no cost. These adjustments and repairs may take some time and require ongoing maintenance, but the resulting cost savings are worth the effort.
Taking advantage of low-cost opportunities in combination with establishing a strategy for continuous energy efficiency improvement can yield impressive cost and energy savings year-over-year.
Every refrigeration system is unique, with its own quirks and character. That’s why each system must be poked, prodded, and otherwise forced to show its limitations and capabilities. Be willing to experiment while maintaining system stability and reliability.
Consider the following, as you pursue a low- and no-cost efficiency strategy:
Remember that functional does not mean efficient. A well-tuned and properly maintained system is virtually always more efficient than one that simply runs without any assessment as to the effectiveness of its performance.
Strive to deepen your understanding. It takes more than knowing how a refrigeration system operates. You’ll need to understand what drives the energy use for each component or system, in a way that allows you to make wise decisions regarding configuration, set points, and efficiency strategies. Sometimes misperceptions get passed on by previous system operators, contractors, or vendors that may actually limit the efficiency of your system. Ask questions, do research, and talk to experts.
Look beyond design conditions. Design conditions are just that—information used to select components and configure systems. Often, design conditions are not intended for day-to-day operation, particularly when it comes to pursuing energy efficiency. Avoid sticking to these values, unless there is a strong, justified case.
Account for seasonal impact. Some system inefficiencies or barriers can only be seen during certain seasons. For example, high condensing pressure may only manifest during the summer, whereas limits to the minimum allowable condensing pressure of a system may only be addressed during winter.
Get third-party buy-in. If you utilize a third-party contractor to operate or maintain your system, make sure your contractor is involved in, and on-board with your company’s energy efficiency program. Implement communication protocols, processes, requirements, and goals that help ensure alignment and accountability.
Putting it together: Adopting a philosophy of continuous improvement
Improving the energy efficiency of a cold storage facility involves more than just the effort to repair and fine-tune systems and equipment. If you want to realize significant on-going cost and energy savings, there’s a tremendous benefit to be gained from implementing a plan for continuous improvement.
Here’s a list of actions you can take to develop a strategy for maintaining and growing the efficiencies gained from your operations and maintenance (O&M) activities:
Seek support from upper management – When everyone, from the C-suite to the facility floor, understands and supports your energy efficiency plan, achieving significant success and long-term savings is possible.
Assign an Energy Champion – This is someone who has executive support for establishing accountability, understands a project’s technical considerations, and can manage and motivate staff.
Establish and track key performance indicators (KPIs) –Setting energy-focused KPIs allows a facility to track and benchmark the performance of individual energy-related upgrades. Tracking KPIs ensures that a facility sustains and improves over time and helps maintain support from all stakeholders.
Create and participate in facility training programs.-In large corporations, the operator’s world is the engine room, which may be far away from the front office. A yawning chasm often exists between system operators, those paying the bills, and the executives responsible for company profitability. The challenge is educating people in a common language across that broad spectrum.
Document and replicate your success –Ensure that the lessons learned from a successful energy management program live on, as plant staff evolve and change. Companies with multiple facilities should share knowledge, best practices, and success stories. Dissemination of best practices across the enterprise is a great way to drive savings.
If you’re embarking on O&M improvements, make sure that your plan extends beyond the one-time repair. Work with a team of stakeholders to create a strategy for continuous improvement. Without it, your facility’s energy savings won’t endure, and the progress made could easily fade away.
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