June 28, 2023

Most grocery stores can save significantly on energy costs by retrofitting their systems or upgrading to new, more energy-efficient equipment. Energy efficiency upgrades can run the gamut from a low-cost fix to a major equipment upgrade.

Below is some guidance on the most common energy efficiency projects for grocery stores, beginning with the simplest—maintenance—and moving through lighting, refrigeration, and more.

Double down on maintenance

The tried-and-true method for improving a grocery store’s energy efficiency is also generally the cheapest method: doubling down on maintenance.

Replace the seals on refrigerators and freezers every five years or so, and repair cracks or gaps as needed. Have someone get up on the roof annually to make sure that air intakes are free of debris.

Check filters and refrigerant levels annually, too. If you are needing to refill refrigerant levels often, find out where the system is leaking fluid. The price of older refrigerants is becoming expensive as the industry moves away from them.

“Performing regular maintenance allows you to stay on top of things before they become an emergency that requires a replacement,” said Efficiency Smart Implementation Manager, Dan Petit. “When it gets to that point, you lose your ability to plan and may have to take whatever replacement you can get.”

Often, an emergency replacement is not the most energy-efficient one. Then, you could be stuck with that piece of equipment for the next 15 to 20 years if it’s too expensive to replace.

Upgrade your lighting

Upgrading store lighting is a great way to save energy while also improving the look and feel of the store. And because LEDs last longer than fluorescent and incandescent bulbs, staff will spend less time replacing burnt-out bulbs.

Refrigerated cases are everywhere in grocery stores, so upgrading case lighting will make a big difference on energy bills—especially if the store is open for long hours. How lighting is upgraded to maximize its efficiency will depend on the store’s existing lights and layout. In some cases, stores can replace fluorescent lamp tubes with retrofit kits that fit into existing cases. This is the cheapest and easiest option.

Replacing lighting fixtures entirely will cost more but also provides more options. When upgrading to new fixtures, it’s easier to incorporate advanced lighting controls into the system. With lighting controls, store managers can tune the light levels and temperatures (cooler or warmer colored light) to meet different needs in different parts of the store. Managers can also set controls to turn lights on or off in response to motion sensors or dim them on a set schedule, such as during restocking hours or when the store is closed.

If the store is responsible for maintaining the building’s exterior, make sure to check outside wall packs, loading docks, and parking lots for efficiency opportunities. Most new fixtures come with motion sensors and dimming options. There are also a variety of LED replacement options for sign lighting, from tubes to strips, that can be customized for length and color. 

What to know about lighting for your business

Fine tune the refrigeration

Refrigeration makes up about 40 percent of total energy use for most grocery stores, according to Energy STAR. If a store’s current refrigeration system wastes a lot of energy, upgrading to a new system could make a large impact on your energy costs.

Open refrigerated cases were once commonplace at grocery stores, particularly for perishable staples like eggs, cheese, and yogurt. But nowadays, most stores have added doors to their refrigerated cases. This saves energy without impacting the customer experience or purchases.

If a store’s refrigerated cases still have a lot of life left in them, door retrofit kits can be installed to keep conditioned air where it belongs. In addition to reducing energy use, these kits allow cases to maintain a more consistent temperature, which means that perishable products will maintain their quality longer.

Stores can also upgrade the evaporator fan motors that circulate cold air in their refrigerated cases. Older cases typically use permanent split capacitor (PSC) motors, which are not as efficient as newer electronically commutated motors (ECMs). It’s relatively easy to swap out PSC motors for newer ECMs.

Another retrofit that stores can install on refrigerated case doors is anti-sweat heaters. These heaters prevent condensation from forming on the doors. Anti-sweat heaters are designed to kick in at a specific humidity or case dew point and will run less often in the winter when the air is drier. Similarly, smart defrost controls will trigger a defrosting process only when needed to avoid an accumulation of frost and ice on the evaporator. Stores can also install controls on evaporator fan motors in walk-ins so that fans only run at full speed when there is a need for active cooling.

If a store is already planning to replace its refrigerated cases, it’s a good idea to purchase new cases with doors. Replacing the entire case is more expensive than a simple retrofit, but new cases come with LED lighting and high-efficiency fan motors, which adds up to greater monthly savings.

Finally, don’t forget to address the efficiency of the back end of your refrigeration system. Your refrigeration compressor or condensing unit can be found on the roof or in a dedicated compressor rack in a back storage area. Newer compressors tend to be smaller and more efficient and need less horsepower to provide the same amount of cooling. 

Six signs that your refrigeration isn’t working properly

Look for Energy STAR equipment

Grocery stores that sell prepared food have ovens, steam cookers, commercial refrigerators, and other kitchen equipment on hand. When it’s time to replace the equipment, look for Energy STAR certified models.

Get started today

Efficiency Smart can help you prioritize the energy efficiency upgrades that are most likely to provide the best return on your investment. We provide rebates and technical guidance specifically designed for grocery stores. For more on how you can get started, contact your local account manager, call us at 877-889-3777, or email us at [email protected].