COLOGNE, Germany — Almost two-thirds of large supermarkets surveyed in northern and western European countries now use natural refrigerants in their stores, according to a new report issued by Carrier Commercial Refrigeration, Europe. The research finds that this trend is being driven by industrywide sustainability policies that are outpacing European Union (EU) legislation. The study, developed in partnership with market development company shecco, seeks to provide a clear picture of the key drivers and the challenges for European food retailers.

The study of mostly large food retailers in Germany, France, Denmark, Norway, and the United Kingdom found 65 percent of respondents had begun to implement natural refrigerant technology in their stores. Fueled by a combination of market and policy influences and technology advances, the shift to natural refrigerants has strengthened the position of many retailers relative to the newly revised European Union F-gas Regulation, which imposes a phase-down scheme and restrictions on use of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants.

“This research reflects the shift we’ve observed across the industry over the past two years,” said Thierry Jomard, president, Carrier Commercial Refrigeration, Europe. “What we’re seeing today is an intersection point between legislation and increased acceptance of how natural refrigerant technologies can contribute to the overarching goals of carbon footprint reduction and increased energy efficiency.”

According to the study, one of the key drivers behind the switch to natural refrigerants is retailers’ growing awareness of the link between carbon footprint reduction and business success. Survey respondents across all territories in the study rated carbon footprint reduction as “important.”

“Retailers increasingly recognize that natural refrigerants represent a future-proof investment in terms of legislative compliance,” Jomard said. “We’re seeing evidence now of early adopters looking even further ahead toward more holistic thinking about combining heating and cooling, using integrated system solutions to optimize overall energy management.”

Among the natural refrigerant options favored by the study’s food retailers is CO2, which is emerging as the standard option for centralized systems. Eighty-three percent of the respondents who already use natural refrigerants had chosen CO2 for their centralized system, versus 17 percent who opted for a hydrocarbon (HC) system.

More than 40 percent of the average supermarket’s total energy consumption is from refrigeration. As a result, the use of energy-efficient and low-global warming potential refrigerants was rated by far as the most important environmental feature to increase a store’s energy efficiency — with a score of 4.3 out of five.

Surveyed retailers also agreed that natural refrigerants can outperform traditional HFC systems in terms of efficiency and performance, suggesting respondents believe the technology makes business sense regardless of any incentives.

The study’s food retailers also said that natural refrigerants have achieved parity with HFCs, based on return on investment and life-cycle costs. They reported an average technology investment cycle of 14 years.

And although initial capital cost and investment remain higher than traditional HFC solutions, the data suggest a relatively small gap.

“Investment in CO2 systems has to make financial sense, and the cost of CO2 system installation is a barrier for some,” said Nina Masson, head of market research, shecco. “There is work to be done, but there is strong evidence that the difference in initial investment cost between CO2 transcritical and traditional systems is coming down.”

A key challenge for the future will be to make the technology readily accessible to smaller convenience stores and food retailers in southern Europe, where warmer temperatures reduce the effectiveness of CO2 systems.

Carrier said it has expanded its portfolio of CO2OLtec® CO2 refrigeration systems to accommodate smaller stores and also believes that the second tipping point is within reach. Last year, Carrier successfully recorded the installation of its southernmost European CO2OLtec system in a hypermarket in Alzira, Valencia, Spain.

“Carrier is continuously extending its CO2OLtec range, with the latest additions responding to the specific needs of small stores as well as bringing efficient solutions for warmer climates,” said Christoph Brouwers, director, integrated systems, Carrier Commercial Refrigeration, Europe.

To download a copy of the Natural Refrigerants in Europe report, click here.

Publication date: 9/22/2014

Want more HVAC industry news and information? Join The NEWS on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn today!