Because the Food Retail market in Spain is so highly fragmented, it has very different refrigeration equipment needs than in other European countries. The five main chains account for 50% of the market; in Europe, however, the biggest names represent 80% of the market. And because there are so many different types of refrigeration for such a varied sample of establishments, it is difficult to analyse and choose the most fitting solution for each individual case.
Due to a number of different factors—concerning both the market and legislation—the leading names in Food Retail are now more focused on existing stores than on opening of new stores.
In Spain, there are 3.4 supermarkets per 1,000 inhabitants, while in the European Union the ratio is 2.6. On top of this, because of the declining birth rate in Spain, there are fewer and fewer mouths to feed, making the current price wars inevitable. We also have to consider the slim margins in the food retail sector, the changes in buyers’ trends, the demand for fresh and quality products, the online channel (an opportunity for some, for others a threat), and current and future legislative challenges, etc., all of which means there can be little doubt that bringing down and controlling operational costs, efficiency and care of the product, and investing in solutions with a rapid return are critical factors that today directly affect the bottom line.
The F-Gas regulation as a catalyst
There are a plethora of solutions aimed at optimising refrigeration systems. In particular, refrigerant gas solutions are drawing a good deal of attention, for legal, economic and availability reasons.
However, all these different solutions can sometimes be confusing, rather than helpful, and in fact, at this stage, many establishments do not really know what solution to adopt to solve their problems.
The F-Gas regulation has led to the appearance of all these different solutions on the market, although it is important to note that this regulation affects new facilities to a greater extent than it does existing ones.
As we said in point 1 of this article, the Spanish Food Retail market is more focused on optimising installed facilities than on expanding and opening new establishments, due to the factors discussed above. In this situation, we have more options to keep in mind that can help us to:
- Significantly bring down the cost of the investment to be made
- Accelerate payback
- Extend the operating life of our facilities that have not yet been depreciated
- Comply with current regulations
- Increase the efficiency of the installation and dramatically reduce TCO2 equivalent atmospheric emissions
There are many different proposals, as we have said, and roughly, they may be divided into three main groups:
- Switching to Natural Refrigerants, in which case the refrigeration facility will have to be completely refurbished
- Retrofit to gases with lower PCA—this is simple if it is a direct substitute, and not so simple if it is not
- Early Detection System to reduce refrigerant gas leaks
One or another solution will fit better depending on our type of establishment, its age, the location, the type of existing installation, the sales mix, our leakage rate, etc.
So, what’s the best solution for my facility?
The table below shows a comparison of these three solutions and how they are aligned with the three main types of Food Retail:
You might think, after reading the table, that my main message is that AKOGAS NDIR is the best solution for any type of establishment, but this is not in fact the case at all.
In this comparison we are only analysing the cost of the solution, but there are other factors to take into account. For example, in the case of a Supermarket with a refrigeration facility which has depleted operating life due to a high leakage rate owing to the age of the facility, then, in all likelihood, the best thing would be to remodel the installation and fittings completely and switch to CO2 or A2L, depending on the size of the installation and how it is set up, than to install a system for early detection of gas leaks such as AKOGAS NDIR.
We can also see that the cost of installing retrofit is in fact very similar to our AKOGAS NDIR solution. This is true provided that the new gas is a direct replacement for the existing gas. If this is not the case, the cost is much higher, in terms of labour, installation materials (valves, filters, etc.) and fittings.
However, even if gas is a direct substitute, does retrofit alone solve the problem of gas leaks? The answer is clearly no. Leaks are not stable, but increase over time, due to erosion of the opening in the pipe or element, and as long as we do not repair this leak, we will lose more and more gas. All we will achieve with a Retrofit is a lower cost per kg of leaking gas (for the time being). It has been claimed that the pressure decreases in the pipe, but really this is not a valid argument. It has been proven that no matter what the working pressure of the new gas, it is much higher than the atmospheric pressure, so the gas will always leak from the circuit if given the chance to do so.
Imagine, for example, that you use gas-oil to heat your house, and that the windows do not have a thermal break, or relatively good insulation, so that in winter, 40% of the heat generated by your boiler leaks out through the window. This obviously leads to higher gas-oil consumption and therefore to higher operating costs; sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Because gas-oil is so expensive, I decide to use pellets in my boiler instead. Except that i) you have to consider the investment needed to change the installation from gas-oil to pellets or biomass, ii) pellets probably have lower operating costs than gas-oil, but unless we resolve the problem of the heat being lost through the windows, we will carry on wasting 40% of our heating expenses, plus the heater will have to work for longer than necessary, using more electricity and shortening its service life.
I think we all see the parallel with a refrigeration circuit. Coolant gas leaks mean:
- A direct cost for recharging coolant gas
- Higher electrical consumption; an installation with a leakage rate of 20% is consuming 15% more electricity
- Increased wear of system components due to longer running time, resulting in higher maintenance costs
- The compressor has to be turned on and off more frequently, in turn causing mechanical stress in the installation, which as we all know, is one of the major causes of gas leaks
Basically, having a Leakage Monitoring and Early Detection System such as AKOGAS NDIR is crucial to reduce leaks in our establishment, especially in those which have not yet been fully depreciated. We can use this system to extend the service life of our installation, bring down energy costs associated with leaks, and also ensure that our stored product is properly preserved, something that as we know is increasingly important (after all, it is one of the main reasons why a consumer decides to buy in one supermarket instead of another).
More than 250 AKOGAS NDIR systems have been installed. The system reduces leaks by up to 85% in the establishments where it has been installed, providing precise and reliable information on where the leak is, when it is most noticeable, and how much we are leaking. Thanks to this information, maintenance technician search times have been reduced by up to 90%, given that there are no false alarms, even in typically adverse detection conditions such as storage of fruit, vegetable, fish, cheese and bread fermentation chambers, or environments where aggressive cleaning products, solvents, alcohols, bleach—all substances that cause false alarms in other types of technology—are used. The system is extremely reliable due to its robust construction, using IP68 protection and a working temperature of up to -30ºC, which means it can be installed in freeze chambers and even inside the tray of the shelves.
AKOGAS NDIR is now also available with NB-IoT (Narro Band – Internet of Things) technology, where the equipment connects to the AKONET.Cloud Monitoring and Alert Sending System, which does not need any communication cables. This means its installation cost is much lower than other technologies such as MODBUS, LONBUS or Ethernet. Also, it does not need to be connected to the establishment’s network, as each computer connects directly to AKONET.Cloud without using a hub, webserver, or ethernet socket, greatly simplifying the system implementation, and also, because it uses its own encrypted and redundant communication protocol— which ensures privacy and security of stored data—it does not affect the establishment’s internal network in any way.
At AKO Electromechanics, we have over 40 years of experience in the refrigeration sector. We can offer you a review of your facilities, and an ad hoc technical-economic study with the proposal that is best suited fro your individual case. Do not hesitate to contact us for more information.