“DOE has been taking up all my (expletive) time.”

That’s the kind of statement you can overhear at a trade show that you wouldn’t necessarily see on company letterhead. And, in fact, it’s exactly what I overheard between two gentlemen as I made my way from booth to booth at the recent National Restaurant Association show.

With no disrespect to any of the many other fine trade shows and conferences in our industry, the restaurant show is my favorite. There are food samples galore, and at what other show can you eat your way from one end of the hall to the other? And of course the freezer, cooler, and ice machine manufacturers are on hand to show off their latest wares and share their insights.  

I laughed a little bit to myself when I overheard the comment above because it was so real. It was the distilled version of what I had been hearing – in a more politically correct form – from many of the manufacturers at the show. 

New Department of Energy (DOE) rules that went into effect March 27 were the first thing everyone wanted to discuss. These new regs required a 30 percent to 50 percent energy-level reduction for reach-in refrigerators, a 5 percent reduction for ice makers, and a 20 percent to 40 percent reduction for walk-ins. Couple that with the refrigerant changes taking place under the EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program and it’s no wonder the regulations have driven manufacturers to the point of cursing.

Some manufacturers noted that meeting the DOE requirements has come at the expense of innovation: in other words, redesigning equipment to stay in business has understandably taken priority over redesigning equipment with new features that customers desire.  

But, as is often the case in this remarkably resilient industry, there was a yang to the yin. Several manufacturers noted that today’s equipment is better, more dependable, longer-lasting, and more efficient than the CFC equipment that was around 20 years ago – and some surprisingly even gave some grudging credit for that to government regulations over the years. They said there’s no reason to think we won’t look back 20 years from now and see this transition in the same positive light. They pointed out that it’s nice to be a leading industry in a global environmental effort. Others said how proud they were of their technical people for pulling off the difficult task of redesigning entire product lines under duress. Still others mentioned how the years of government-mandated innovation have them excited to get back to fun, customer-centric innovation again.

So leave it to the irrepressible refrigeration industry to find a bright side to a stressful transition. As the old saying goes, it’s better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. Or, in this case, to curse the DOE.

 Publication date: 6/5/2017

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