Energy Efficiency | October 14, 2020

Managing a Grocery Energy Project: How to Move from Plans to Solutions

Maybe you already know what the biggest energy wasters are in your supermarket. Rooftop units, lighting and outdated refrigeration systems all come to mind. If you don’t, your utility bill can help you determine where you can improve your energy usage. However, one of the biggest hurdles is converting these areas of concern into opportunities for improvement and following through on completing them. The latter part is where I come in. Project Management in an energy engineering company brings a project from the planning and contract stages through the actual build and installation. And for each industry, it looks different based on facility type, run hours and efficiency solutions, among other factors.

The project management process leads to tangible results that affect a company and its energy bill. Here’s what project management looks like for a supermarket or grocery energy project.


Planning a grocery energy efficiency project

We plan grocery energy projects around customer needs. Needs can vary significantly, depending on what the grocery store looks like. If working with an ESCO, their Sales and Project Management teams conduct planning in tandem, starting with a site audit. From here, generally the team can identify areas of concern for the business and start to develop strategies to address them.


Targeting high energy-use functions

Energy savings should be one of the biggest concerns of the grocery industry because of how financially significant these savings can be. Due to factors such as long run hours for lighting and high energy usage on refrigeration, there are several ways to decrease grocery energy use and save significant amounts of money for a client. For example, lights are obviously on in a grocery store all day for business hours, and this lighting tends to have high lumen output so customers can clearly see all the product offerings. However, even as stores close for the night, the business is active with restocking shelves and receiving new shipments, requiring lights to stay on through a large part of the night as well.

Based on store energy demand, we’ll start to formulate a plan to target and lower energy usage. For lighting, this can mean installing fixtures with built-in occupancy sensors, time out or daylight sensors and high efficiency fixtures. Through the identification of the client’s need, usually with an energy audit, we can determine the steps to take to develop and install a solution that lowers their energy bill significantly.

Ensuring operational improvements

Grocery energy projects also provide essential operational improvements if a location is experiencing frequent maintenance concerns. With the long-run times, older or outdated mechanical equipment, cases and fixtures tend to require frequent maintenance. Through a more efficient, quality upgrade, these maintenance concerns can be significantly mitigated. For example, LED lighting fixtures tend to last longer and require less upkeep and maintenance than fluorescents.

Improving store aesthetics

Finally, energy efficiency projects can have a huge effect on the overall atmosphere of a grocery store, from temperature and comfort to lighting on products.

These decisions tend to be made between Sales and Project Management, considering the needs of the company. Sales teams typically identify areas for improvement and develop strategies for increasing energy efficiency, whereas project management executes these strategies while planning and adjusting based on location and client requirements.


Three circles illustrating the three solutions for grocery energy efficiency: lighting, HVAC, and refrigeration

Three solutions for grocery energy efficiency

Ultimately, there are three major categories for grocery efficiency improvements: lighting, HVAC and refrigeration. These three categories encapsulate some of the major ways to decrease energy usage within a store and outline how to best secure incentives from the local utility company to cover significant portions of the project cost.

  • Lighting: load control, occupancy sensors, dimming, programmable lighting
  • HVAC: high efficiency, auto-adjusting fan drivers within rooftop units (RTUs)
  • Refrigeration: more efficient evaporative fan motors underneath food casing/freezers and walk-in coolers/freezers

Together, these measures can result in huge savings for a grocery store, both in energy efficiency and in incentive money from utilities. In Connecticut, I’ve seen supermarkets reach the three measures and get up to 75% of the total project cost covered by the incentives, saving them significantly upfront on a project that would save them significant amounts of money for years to come.


How to build a high efficiency grocery energy system

Once the Energy Service Company develops a plan for an energy efficiency installation, the energy project moves into the installation stage. Project managers work primarily based off the plan, knowing they may need to adjust in the moment based on the facility or a number of other factors.

For most grocery energy projects, work occurs during “third shift,” starting around 9:00 pm or 10:00 pm each night and going until morning. As the stores tend to be fairly empty at this point, besides some employees stocking shelves, the project can occur without interrupting the flow of the business.

For a recent grocery project I worked on, we established a routine based on this. At the beginning of every evening, our team would check in with the store’s manager to provide updates on our progress and see if they had any new concerns. From there, we’d begin our work.

Tackling multiple projects at the same time

On a project where we’re hitting all three measures, we need to work on three separate energy projects simultaneously. This requires careful planning as well. While rooftop units can be worked on independently (as they’re … well, on the roof), refrigeration/cooling and lighting projects occur in the same spaces at the same time.

We found a subcontractor in the area for one grocery project that could install both LED lighting fixtures and evaporative fan motors, meaning we could have one team to manage both these aspects of the installation. This cut down on the issues and challenges of scheduling one project around another and meant we could work our way around the supermarket. When we hit places that needed new fans, we installed them along with the lighting fixtures.

Working around a grocery store environment

We also take extra care to make sure that we’re not disrupting or harming the product in any way. Some of the fresh produce is usually taken in at night, but in areas where produce remains, we’ll cover up the section with sheets of plastic or move sections completely if possible.

Supermarkets carry additional challenges with space restrictions and space utilization, meaning we need to be flexible and adapt to each location. There often isn’t space for us to store equipment within the back of the store, since they need the space for extra products, so I’ve sometimes needed to rent a storage container for the location. We also have been able to stagger material deliveries so that not all our products came at once.

Flexibility is one of the most important aspects of dealing with any energy efficiency project, especially one where the space has so many key restrictions. For every grocery energy efficiency project, we go in planning to adapt ourselves and our operations to the space.

Engineering energy solutions

Through careful planning and working through problems on the site, our team develops an energy solution for our clients, including increased energy efficiency and significant energy savings.

For a grocery store, energy efficiency projects mean huge cost savings. The online publication Supermarket News reports, “…every dollar saved in electricity costs yields the same profit impact as boosting sales by $18.” And with utility incentives for hitting all three measures, the total cost of the project can be reduced significantly, to even a fourth of its total cost. All three measures, pursued separately, each provide significant energy and cost savings for a supermarket as well.

For a recent grocery energy efficiency project I worked on, these efforts resulted in 1,341,000 kWh saved, equivalent to $241,400 annually or roughly 2,000 barrels of oil.

In project management, we take the established build plan and create the solution in store, adapting in real time to challenges that arise and issues we uncover. The project is engineered to fit the grocery store and provide the savings ideal for the customer. Plus, they provide the ability to fine-tune energy usage to your space. Through automatically-activated fans in rooftop units to evaporative fan motors in refrigeration or programmable LED lighting, your space can be transformed and your energy management customized.