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Overwaitea finds $11.2 million in savings through energy efficiency

Image of Darrell Jones and Cole Munro, Save on Foods
President Darrell Jones (left) and energy manager Cole Munro of Overwaitea Food Group.

Facilities requiring lots of energy provide great opportunities for saving big

There are few energy efficiency challenges as tricky as those routinely faced by grocers.

Some food items must be kept consistently cool — or frozen — to avoid spoilage. Others are cooked and maintained at high temperatures to be sold ready to eat. Customers want uniform levels of lighting as they browse the aisles, and don't want to be uncomfortable in a store that is either too warm or too cold.

It's a recipe for high energy consumption. But that also means great opportunities for efficiency.

"Grocery provides a unique opportunity for energy savings," explains Kerry Fast, senior key account manager for BC Hydro, who works with large grocery clients such as Overwaitea. "When you look at lighting, heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC), and refrigeration, efficiencies can be found to manage up to 80 per cent of a store's electrical load.

"In a highly competitive sector where margins are tight, any opportunity to reduce waste and save money is welcome."

$11.2 million saved through low-heat lighting, 'de-lamping,' heat recovery and more

Overwaitea Food Group (OFG), a Power Smart Partner since 2002, is living proof. The company's energy manager, Cole Munro, is constantly on the hunt for energy savings. With his team, Munro evaluates OFG locations from top to bottom, looking for lighting, refrigeration, HVAC, and mechanical upgrades that can be made.

They examine how repairs and maintenance are being conducted, and consider whether equipment that's due for replacement can be swapped out for more energy-efficient models.

Some of the ways Overwaitea has found savings include:

  • Moving from open refrigerated displays to energy-efficient display cases fronted by glass doors. Munro says there were initial concerns that adding doors might make products less visible or create difficulty when stocking shelves. But what they've found is that there have been few problems, and tremendous energy and financial savings.
  • Retrofitting refrigerated display cases to incorporate energy-efficient lighting, which generates less heat. That means the refrigeration system doesn't have to work as hard.
  • Heat recovery systems at warehouses capture waste heat generated by the refrigeration process. The energy is sent from condensers on the roof, through a heat exchanger, and then pumped back into the building, resulting in large-scale financial savings.
  • "De-lamping" — removing lights that are not needed. They're also automating the process of turning lights on and off by using daylight and occupancy sensors.
  • New stores are planned and built following energy-efficiency standards.

The measures have made a difference. Since 2007, OFG has reduced total electricity consumption by 22 per cent. The company has avoided using 254 GWh of energy, resulting in cost savings of $11.2 million. That's also helped reduce carbon emissions. OFG has avoided 87,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions, equivalent to removing 17,000 cars from the road.

Munro says OFG has had significant success in part because senior levels of management support the idea of reducing costs and energy consumption. It's a trend that's continuing under new OFG president Darrell Jones.

Overwaitea's leadership sets example for grocery sector

Jonathan Farkouh, manager of member programs for the Retail Council of Canada, says while energy efficient upgrades can be capital-intensive to roll out initially, the investment will pay off. OFG's leadership on these kinds of upgrades is showing other grocers that it makes sense in the long run to pursue energy conservation.

"Upgrading your lighting, adopting retrofitted coolers and refrigeration to reduce compressor run times, and adapting building systems when possible to reduce heating and cooling will mean major savings," says Farkouh. "Continuing to track usage, research newer technology, and refining your systems means that you will keep seeing savings in the years to come."

That's what keeps OFG's energy manager and his team on the hunt for more savings. Munro says one of the most enjoyable aspects of his job is the freedom he enjoys.

"We have the opportunity to do what we want to achieve our mandate, as long as it is within budget and saves money," he says. "That kind of free rein is priceless — and of course, it's nice to know we're helping the environment too."