Gordon Food Service: "Eye-opening" energy savings

John Zeron, Director of Warehouse Operations; Mark Bethell, Health and Safety Manager; and Geoff Pinch, Maintenance Supervisor/Chief Engineer.

When BC Hydro started to work with Gordon Food Service in 2008, Mark Bethell expected to learn a few strategies for saving energy in the company's operations.

He didn't realize, however, that the experience would reveal so much.

"I've never learned so much in a short time," says Bethell, Health and Safety Manager for the company's operations in Delta. "BC Hydro helped identify what we could save and what our impact would be. It was a huge eye-opener."

GFS British Columbia Inc. is a large distribution facility serving the food service industry in British Columbia. The Delta facility includes 305,000 sq. ft. of warehouse space including freezers and coolers, and 45,000 sq. ft. of offices. It's a 24/7 operation serving communities all over B.C.

Through the Power Smart Industrial Program, BC Hydro first supported GFS with an end use assessment study in early 2008. From there, a two-day energy efficiency feasibility study was done in May of the same year.

The studies helped identify the facility's best options for savings. The first project was lighting.

Lighting: 9% cut in costs, payback nine months

"We changed out old metal halide and sodium lighting fixtures to T5 fluorescent high bay lighting," says Bethell. "The lighting with the old technology was dark and dingy, and as soon as you put new bulbs in, they'd start to dim right away.

"By comparison, our fluorescents will only lose 5% of their illumination over the lifespan of the bulb."

Motion sensors were also installed, so that lights turn off after 30 minutes without activity, saving more energy.

"It's a lot brighter in the warehouse now, it's a lot better working environment for our employees, which is a major focus for us," says Bethell. "And of course just being able to conserve energy is important, because that's a big part of what our customers ask us daily – what do we do for the environment."

Bethell points out that the fluorescent lights are much cooler than the old models, which cuts costs on energy needed for refrigeration.

The lighting retrofit – throughout the entire 305,000 sq. ft. warehouse, is saving an impressive 714,000 kWh of electricity per year – or nearly 9% of the company's annual electric bill.

The retrofit took only 28 days and was implemented without a hitch. Power Smart supported GFS with a project incentive of 75% of the total project cost of $224,000, giving the investment a payback of about 9 months.

"It's great to ask for capital when the investment is returned in such a short period of time," says Bethell. "Our senior leadership team supported the project one hundred percent as it was easy for them to see the value in the employees' work environment, cost savings for the company, and our customers' concerns for the environment."

Refrigerator doors: 215,000 kWh savings, payback 1.2 years

From there, the company targeted its freezer doors – another improvement identified by the original studies.

"We had five old-fashioned bifold freezer doors which were heated to keep them from freezing up," says Bethell. "But they just never sealed correctly. And since each door opens and closes about 10,000 times per month, we were burning a lot of energy there."

New high speed rolling doors that seal cleanly to the floor were installed. An unheated blower keeps the doors from frosting up. The project is saving 215,000 kWh of energy per year and was also supported with a project incentive from Power Smart. Payback time, including the incentive, is about 1.2 years.

"In terms of energy savings, in our little part of the province, we've done pretty well," says Bethell. "If every company could save that amount of electricity, it would make a huge difference for the province."

GFS is now considering its next round of upgrades, which might include work on the refrigeration compressors, or lighting in the company's large office spaces, where Bethell estimates as much as another 200,000 kWh might be saved.

It all started with a study

"This company is a great example of the value of an energy audit," comments Kymm Girgulis, BC Hydro's Key Account Manager for GFS. "Once you have the information, you can put it on the shelf if financially the time isn't right or you have some other bumps that make it hard to take on a project right away. Then you can pull it back off the shelf and implement.

"GFS did their energy audit, and then they could plan in advance. They knew what their next project was going to be, so then they had time to budget for it, and just execute against it. There's always value in getting a study done even if you're not sure you can implement right away."

Mark Bethell agrees. "The help we got from BCH was phenomenal. Having that in-depth audit, going through your entire system and getting guidance about what changes you can make, it's a huge benefit. I'd absolutely recommend the whole process.

"Even if you're not ready yet to carry out a project, you gain a lot of information that you can use down the road. You can really see where your inefficiencies lie."