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The final part of the puzzle

Energy efficiency is at the forefront of the in the rac industry at present, as the price of electricity increases the need to cut refrigeration costs. Rodney Jack travels to Bootle where Asda has opened its highest efficiency store to date

Walking around Bootle’s civic buildings you become acutely aware of the town’s long-standing motto ‘Respice, Aspice, Prospice’.

Loosely translated from the Latin, it means ‘examine the past, examine the present, examine the future’ and describes well the town’s approach to constant progression via trial. And it is an approach also being adopted by one of the town’s most recent corporate tenants.

Over the last few years, Asda has been evaluating findings from a raft of environmental initiatives and applying the results to a succession of newly-built stores.

The retail group is examining CO2 systems among others, such as using secondary refrigerants or hydrocarbons. Current tests in four different systems will conclude this year to influence its decision for a next-generation refrigerant, and a template for energy-efficient stores.

Bootle is Asda’s second ‘eco store’ following just over a year after the first in Shaw, Oldham in 2007.

According to Brian Churchyard, the UK refrigeration manager, Bootle represents the next step for Asda. 

“More technology has gone into the building to evaluate what works efficiently and what is worthy of rolling out on a larger scale,” he says.

The 40,000 sq ft timber-framed Merseyside store is fully HFC free and is 50 per cent more energy efficient than a typical Asda store of a 2005 vintage, Mr Churchyard claims.

The refrigeration plant runs on a carbon dioxide cascade DX system, low temperature and high temperature, with integral units running on hydrocarbons.

On the shop floor, one of the most noticeable parts of the CO2 system is the small size of the refrigerant services in comparison to that used in an HFC system.

The freezer cabinets, manufactured by Linde, are the jewel in this particular eco store’s crown. Installation of full glass doors halve the volume of refrigerant gas in the store’s systems, which equates to 140 tonnes of CO2 saved. The use of full refrigerator doors saves 7 per cent of the Bootle store’s total energy bill, and also enhances the shopping experience, Mr Churchyard contends, by making the chilled department warmer.

Additional energy-saving measures include the use of trim heater controls, and control systems that adapt the equipment to the relative humidity of the store.

Full- and half-glass cases have lighting that switches off at night and are operated remotely. They are also hooked up to alarm systems that link in with refrigeration units. There is also colour banding of cases, a scheme where two different temperature bands are applied to two food categories such as frozen foods and ice cream via the all-encompassing AIMS (Asda Integrated Management System) monitoring platform.

Bootle’s staff, like others across the estate, no longer have to address alarm traffic: “It’s all dealt with externally to take pressure off the stores,” Churchyard explains.

A welcome departure from the past, he believes because as an ex-service engineer he knows that those called out on a service call will have to apply the skills they’ve learnt and fix a problem locally.

What the store also boasts is full system integration of heating and cooling, meaning amongst other things that all heat produced by the store is recycled and used, as opposed to being wasted by escaping into the atmosphere. Bootle has also included other energy efficient components such as a ground source heat pump and a biomass boiler.

Brian Churchyard is proud of the achievements made at Bootle. He says Bootle fulfils part of his brief since it includes both “improvements” on other stores, and “additions” – learnings from recently implemented ideas.

For the record his current brief as the sole representative of the refrigeration division in Asda House is: model development/remodels and extensions; contribution to a reduction of energy consumption by 30 per cent; the cost-effective removal of HFCs; and developing “the next step”, the next three to five years in refrigeration.

The work at Bootle, as at many other stores, was overseen by CBES. Brian Churchyard heaps considerable praise on the contractor and says having one point of contact for all design, installation and refrigeration fit-out work meets his requirements. “For me, it is easier to get our message across and get contractors on-board with our thinking.”

He qualifies this by saying he entrusts CBES with the glut of new ideas he receives and let its designers take them on-board and run evaluation pieces if appropriate.

This he says allows him the space to find solutions to make older stores energy efficient.

“We’ve spent a lot of money rolling out different projects to get the performance of the kits back to an appropriate level,” he says.

Asda has managed to reduce energy consumption by 25-30 per cent across its estate of existing stores. But, the work is not finished there, he says.

“We set ourselves a challenge of a two-year payback to give ourselves the best benefits we can,” he adds. “Anything outside of that we have to think long and hard about, and not do it for just for the sake of it.”

Trials that are ongoing, such as the secondary CO2 system with hydrocarbon chillers at a remodel store in Tilbury, Essex for example, still require evaluation before they get the green light. Currently for Asda, Carbon dioxide is also still on trial. Although for him CO2 is a “good alternative” Mr Churchyard says he is open to any solution that provides energy efficiency, and is effective under different pressure loads, and is not unnecessarily complex for service and maintenance.

“One of the reasons why we’ve looked at a secondary solution is because it eliminates some of the risk posed by CO2 systems – low operating pressure systems, very simple control systems. But everything is still in evaluation,” he says.

The best elements of Bootle will be incorporated into a best-practice model following evaluation.

“The idea is that we go into 2010 on a number of new store builds saying how we perceive our way forward with refrigeration,” says Mr Churchyard.

Asda’s US owner Wal-Mart is maintaining a watching brief on developments in the refrigeration sector, and is naturally very interested in what has been achieved at both Bootle and Tilbury.

“That’s why these things aren’t just showpieces – a lot of time and effort goes into the engineering justification as to why an improvement in specification, for example, will return the benefits over a period of time”

Asda says it is committed to making a change in the refrigeration side. The question is which change it will be.

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