Donald's Market

Upgrades expected to save $11,000 a year on electricity costs

Nina Winham

When it comes to improving your business, sometimes it seems you just can't afford the investments you'd like to make. Other times, you can't afford not to invest.

Increasingly, energy efficiency falls into the second category. With great gains in efficiency now available from relatively simple technologies, rebates from BC Hydro that significantly reduce payback times, and skilled contractors who are increasingly savvy about helping you save money on your electricity bill, this is a great time to get started on energy conservation – and save money month after month.

To demonstrate the value of undergoing an "energy makeover," BC Hydro recently teamed up with Donald's Market, an independent grocer based in Vancouver. Now, Donald's expects to save about $11,000 a year on electricity at its Commercial Drive location, and the store offers a better customer experience than ever before.

It started with an energy assessment

The first step at Donald's was to do an energy assessment to determine the market's needs, and the options for the best energy efficiency gains. Karl Horvath of Quantum Lighting and Dennis Arduini of CT Control Temp Inc. assisted with the market makeover.

"What we do first is check to see the type and age of equipment the company is using, and then we determine where the best savings would be," says Arduini. "New refrigeration cases are so much more efficient than older models, sometimes a full replacement is in order. But if that's not in the budget, upgrades or improvements can still improve their operating costs."

For his part, Horvath noted issues such as fluorescent lighting located directly above shelving instead of where it would best illuminate the product, a waste of electricity that left customers in the dark.

"As the population ages the light levels become more and more critical," he says. "People just can't read in a dark retail place, and if they can't, they'll stop shopping, or you'll have less opportunities to retail to them."

You can assess your options for energy efficiency by working with contractors who are members of the Power Smart Alliance. You can also get started on your own, using our "Energy Walk-through" series as a guide.

Lighting: strategic and efficient

New technologies have greatly improved not only efficiency, but also the colour rendering and visual comfort of various types of lighting. In addition, lighting practices have become more targeted to users' needs, and more strategic.

"What most people are looking for now is to dovetail energy efficiency needs with making sure their lighting meets their retail strategy," says Horvath. "By doing so, they can not only get the gains from reduced operating costs but also help push their sales forward."

At Donald's Market, that meant upgrading and repositioning older fluorescent lights over grocery aisles, work areas and checkouts with more efficient T8 fluorescent tubes with electronic ballasts and matching light levels to the tasks in each area. Outside the front door, T12 fluorescent tubes over produce bins were exhibiting an annoying "flicker" and were upgraded to T8 vapour-proof luminaires that use 25-35% less energy.

"The old lighting just pushed out a lot of bland light," says Horvath. "It made the product look poor, it washed it out with a bluish grey light."

Bringing colours to life was also a goal of the new lighting over the indoor produce area, where lights were repositioned away from pooling light on the floor to highlighting the enticing colours of eggplants, ripe tomatoes, and leafy greens. Halogen HIR floodlights were the pick for this area, with LED strips used inside produce cooler cases.

Donald's owner, Gary Joe, is delighted with the improvement. "These lights really enhance the product, and they don't damage it either," says Joe. "It's like the change from regular TV to HD TV – the lights not only save energy but they also give a crisp look, and it's easier on the eyes. We look back now and go wow, what a difference lighting can make."

A triple improvement was achieved inside coolers and freezers with glass doors (housing dairy products, frozen foods, etc.). Here, internal fluorescent tubes were both sending glare into customers' eyes, and throwing off heat that caused the refrigeration equipment to work extra hard. These were replaced with directional LED strip lighting that uses less energy, produces less heat, and allows a customer to see a wider range of product on the shelf instead of squinting and pulling away.

Finally, incandescent lights in the walk-in cooler were replaced with CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) and an incandescent exit sign was replaced with a highly-efficient LED version. The total estimated savings from lighting improvements is more than 58,000 kWh of electricity per year, or nearly $3,500.

Lighting Savings Summary
Area Existing Retrofit Savings
Entrance areas (front of building under awning) T12 strip lighting 1 x 8 T8 vapour proof luminaires 10,019 $593.10
Exterior entrance (rear of building) HID high pressure sodium luminaire Metal halide wall packs 2,453 $145.21
Produce department 400W metal halide down lights Removed 11,826 $700.10
Produce department 50W MR16 track lighting heads Halogen HIR floodlights 6,771 $400.87
Cashiers area, grocery aisles, meat, produce, work area and offices 2 x 4 recessed luminaires (T12 and magnetic T8) 2 x 4 recessed T8 recessed luminaires (4 lamps) 18,370 $1,087.49
Glass door freezers and coolers (vertical) T8 40" lamps LED strip modules 1,989 $117.72
Meat and yogurt cooler cases T12 and T8 luminaires Convert to LBF electronic ballasts and 30W T8 lamps 2,606 $154.28
Open produce cases T8 lamps Horizontal LED strip modules 2,015 $119.28
Walk-in cooler Incandescent CFL 1,012 $59.90
Common areas Incandescent LED exit sign LED exit sign 1,183 $70.01
Total from lighting   58,242 $3,447.95


Refrigeration technology has also improved significantly over the years in terms of energy efficiency. However, the cost of completely replacing older refrigeration cases can be high, discouraging companies from seeking efficiencies.

Donald's Market helps prove that there are alternatives to replacement – fixes for older equipment that can save energy, and money.

A major factor in reducing the cost of energy for refrigeration is to prevent the loss of what you've already invested in: cold air. That means placing barriers between warm and cold areas wherever possible.

Donald's implemented three such technologies: night covers on upright refrigerated display cases, strip curtains at the entry to their cold storage area, and an "air curtain" at three different entrances.

"For a smaller store like Donald's, night curtains are the best option to save money right off the bat," says Dennis Arduini of CT Control Temp. "Especially on those older cases, you get a huge amount of cold air that's spilling out, with warm air from the store going in, so the units have to work that much harder to maintain their temperature."

The night covers are a retractable plastic cover, like a window blind, that are pulled over the case opening during closing hours, keeping the cold air in place.

"You don't need a technician to put them in, they're relatively inexpensive and the payback is very good," says Arduini. "And there's a BC Hydro incentive that adds to the value."

Similarly, strip curtains stop chilled air from spilling out of a busy cold storage area, while still allowing people to walk in and out with ease.

Air curtains help with the same issue – but they block air from moving between the store's interior and the outdoors.

"The air curtain provides a very thin band of air from the unit downwards to the floor, preventing the outdoor air from infiltrating into the store," explains Arduini. "The majority of problems happen in the summer, when warm humid air comes in. Then the air conditioning has to work harder and the humidity levels go up so you get condensation on your refrigerated product.

"You're using extra energy and the end result still isn't as good because your product is affected."

Air curtains – if adjusted properly (a firm steady air flow) – save far more energy than they use.

A final fix at Donald's Market was to replace the motors in refrigeration cases and walk in coolers (which keep cool air circulating) with electronically commutated motors (ECM's) which operate more smoothly and efficiently. Arduini says although all the motors were replaced at once at Donald's, most retailers opt to replace them one by one, as motors burn out.

The total energy savings from Donald's refrigeration improvements is estimated at more than 130,000 kWh per year – or about $7,600 in electricity costs. That brings the total energy savings for the Grocery Store makeover to about $11,000 a year.

"Energy is our second highest cost, after wages," says Gary Joe. "So it's really significant to be able to save money there; it makes a big difference."

Refrigeration Savings Summary
Area Existing Retrofit Savings
Cold storage No strip curtains Strip curtains 26,600 $1,574.72
Main entrance / main exit / rear loading doors No air curtains Air curtains 74,211 $4,393.29
Dairy cases No night cover Night cover 3,876 $229.46
Reach in refrigeration cases (dairy, meat, produce and freezer) No ECM's ECM's 22,888 $1,304.60
Walk in coolers No ECM's ECM's 2,693 $153.48
Total from refrigeration  
130,267 $7,655.56

Composting, recycling and more

The grocery store makeover included consultations with the Green Table Network and the City of Vancouver's Climate Protection Program. Donald's Market has now established a store composting program, improved recycling practices, and water conservation measures.

In addition, Joe says they are working to reduce packaging, and switch to better environmental alternatives (such as eliminating styrofoam) where possible. He's also taking his learnings from the Commercial Drive store to Donald's new location at the River Market in New Westminster, where Donald's will be the grocery anchor tenant.

"We're trying to get more sustainable in every way possible, step by step," says Joe. "These days, everyone's quite educated about the world and sustainability; it's just the way to go. If you're not thinking about it, you will be three steps behind. This is the road to go, for sure."

Watch the Energy Fix on video

Watch The Energy Fix – a series of six short online videos that chronicle the grocery store makeover at Donald's Market. If you're planning your own energy fix, be sure to look at BC Hydro incentives that can help.

Nina Winham is a Vancouver-based sustainability consultant and frequent contributor to and the Power of Business eNewsletter.