The Evolving World Of Supermarket Refrigeration Systems – Future Trends And Possibilities

Industry experts have foreseen some major changes in the supermarket refrigeration systems in the coming years.  With a rise in consumer demands, same-day delivery frenzy and online grocery shopping, comes increased and efficient storage systems. It is therefore crucial to understand the refrigeration needs of varied retailers, whether big or local.

Currently, the trend is huge with suburban supermarkets that utilize centralized DX (Direct expansion) systems which comprise of display cases on the floor. These are connected to long refrigerating pipes and coil compressors located in a mechanical backyard room or the rooftop. All the mechanical equipment stays in one area making this system easy to access and use but at the same time creating a chance of refrigerant leaks due to the massive amount of piping.

This calls for a growing environmental concern according to the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) report issued in 2017. Each of these refrigerant systems holds around 4000 pounds of charge with a 25% leak percent on an average annually. Which would mean leaks could cause every supermarket to emit 1000 pounds of HFCs every year. And this number further multiplied by thousands of supermarkets out there surely calls for some stern action!

Another reason why a change is approaching is the refrigerant regulations. As per these regulations, HCFCs are expected to become obsolete by 2020 due to their contribution in high global warming. They stress on the fact that at some point in future, supermarkets soon need to start considering low GWP alternatives and ‘future proof’ refrigerants such as HFO blends, CO2, ammonia or propane.

An alternative system, which is far more efficient than the DX centralized systems, are the self-contained propane units which potentially carry a very low charge with a leak rate as low as 2%. Theoretically, a store utilizing self-contained refrigeration equipment would contain only 110 pounds of propane, depending on the size. Plus these systems are easy to accommodate for any new beverage additions, instead of making any costly inconvenient changes to the existing floor refrigeration system.

For a cost-effective alternative, the supermarket owners will have several choices for self-contained propane units in the near future. Several industry professional groups are trying to raise the propane level in these units from 150 to 500 grams in order to accommodate large display cases. 150 grams of propane is sufficient for small to mid-sized display cases, but large display cases that are seen everywhere in the U.S need more cost-effective operations.

Demographics might count as a second important factor leading to this change. Statistics tell us that with the youth migrating to densely populated cities, they shall not require a vehicle to move around, reducing their access to these suburban megastores. This gives birth to the need of opening small stores in crowded places for catering to this section of the audience. And again, these self-contained cases shall serve as the perfect solution especially if a supermarket is opening up in an existing space that is less flexible with a layout and architectural changes.

It is difficult to say if larger self-contained propane units will be available anytime soon, but they will definitely fit the bill as a healthier option. The widespread adoption of these units might not be good news for refrigeration contractors as they require less maintenance and include no repair like the larger installation systems do. This might also be good in a way that service technicians can now concentrate on building complex refrigeration systems for larger superstores that might require the same in years to come.

The future of stores and refrigeration systems can be turned into a win-win situation for all.

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