Thermal Energy Storage: The Key to Energy Efficiency in the Cold Chain

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By Collin Coker - 05/25/2018

The cold storage industry is an energy hog. Globally, cold storage facilities have the highest energy demand per cubic foot and the third highest energy consumption of any industrial category spending over $30 billion annually. In the U.S. alone, there are more than 2,200 industrial cold storage frozen warehouses plus 40,000 supermarkets and over 620,000 restaurants with walk-in freezers. Existing energy saving options – such as energy efficient lighting systems and improved air infiltration – all fall short of tackling the large amounts of energy that refrigeration uses. With volatile energy costs, the industry is looking for better technologies that provide greater energy savings and additional benefits.

Alongside the financial impetus, corporate sustainability goals are also driving this push to reduce energy usage. Many grocery chains have set their own energy reduction goals that apply not only to their own stores but also to their global supply chain. For example, Walmart acknowledges that its refrigeration systems consume anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of the energy use of its buildings. As part of its sustainability initiatives the global retailer has pledged to reduce the kWh-per-square-foot energy intensity in its facilities by 20 percent by 2020 and to power 50 percent of its operations with renewable energy by 2025, with an eventual goal of 100 percent. So far, Walmart has reduced its kWh-per-square-foot energy intensity by 10 percent and its global operations are supplied by 25 percent renewable energy.

Viking Cold Solutions’ Thermal energy storage (TES) is a highly effective way of reducing the 24/7 energy consumption of the cold chain. TES acts like a battery for refrigeration systems, using phase change material (PCM) to store thermal energy in the form of cold for future use. For example, during off-peak hours, a facility’s existing refrigeration equipment freezes the PCM. During peak hours, a facility can dramatically reduce the mechanical run time of its costly refrigeration systems and rely on the PCM to stabilize room temperatures and ensure food quality is not compromised. During these extended periods, the PCM absorbs up to 85 percent of all heat infiltration in the freezer, maintains 38 percent more stable temperatures to ensure food quality and safety, and helps avoid up to 90 percent of peak period consumption. Additionally, TES can integrate with renewable power sources like solar to reduce overnight grid power up to 95%. This helps facilities further reduce their grid-based energy consumption and contribute to corporate sustainability and renewable energy goals, a win for the planet and the bottom line.

It is not only corporations that are driving energy efficiency; city and state governments all across the U.S. have sustainability plans in place, with ambitious targets for energy efficiency and increased use of renewable energy. For example, New York State’s energy plan set a goal of 50 percent renewable energy production by 2030 and a 600 trillion British thermal unit (BTU) increase in statewide energy efficiency.

Viking Cold Solutions is the leading thermal energy storage provider enabling flexibility and savings for the energy-intensive low-temperature cold storage industry. Its TES systems have so far saved over 10,500,000 kWh, enough energy to power close to 1,000 homes for a year and have saved 7,769 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. With corporations and governments continuing to set aggressive sustainability policies that demand increased energy efficiency alongside more renewable energy production, TES is a practical, tested technology that promises to help the cold storage industry save energy and reduce operating costs while contributing to sustainability initiatives.

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