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December 2009
ENERGY STAR REPORT

Refrigeration: A Cool Beginning

By Mike Sherer

Time flies, doesn't it? It's been 10 years already since the Environmental Protection Agency first announced its intent to launch Energy Star standards for foodservice equipment. That word came at the 1999 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. Two years later, the first set of foodservice Energy Star standards—for solid-door reach-in refrigerators and freezers—was unveiled in 2001 at the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers Show in Orlando, Fla.

The EPA's choice to start with refrigeration was fitting given that refrigerators were among the first consumer appliances to be qualified under Energy Star back in '96. That five-year history with refrigeration gave the EPA a head start.

Not that anything was a slam-dunk. Commercial refrigeration presented its own challenges, not least of which was the sheer variety of refrigerated equipment available, from small undercounter units to giant walk-ins. Getting apples-to-apples would be daunting if not impossible. Walk-ins, for example, tended to be customized to fit, and other refrigerated equipment like drawers, sandwich rails, prep tables and cold tops were niche oriented and not primarily intended for longer-term cold food storage. Eventually, the EPA narrowed its focus to solid-door refrigerators and freezers.

Choosing Criteria
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers had already developed a test method to determine average daily energy consumption for refrigerators and freezers. The test method has evolved to the current ANSI/ASHRAE 72-2005 over the years, but it has remained consistent in most respects, especially in terms of results. (If you used the original ANSI/ASHRAE 117-1992 to measure energy consumption today, for example, you'd get results consistent with the newer test method.)

Perhaps most difficult was determining where to set the bar, since energy consumption data on foodservice refrigeration was scarce compared to data on consumer refrigerators. Eventually, data were collected, and Energy Star pegged its cutoff at roughly the top 25% most energy-efficient equipment—and that top-quartile cutoff would later become the marker for all categories.

Standards Spread, Rise
Since '01, the Energy Star spec has become a standard for others to latch onto and spring from, too. Just a year after the first version of the Energy Star commercial refrigeration specs came out, the California Energy Commission set tougher specs for equipment sold in that state. By 2005, the federal Energy Policy Act had codified the California standards into federal standards. The new minimum fed standards, set by the Department of Energy, affect self-contained reach-in refrigerators and freezers and become effective Jan.1, 2010.

The new standards are particularly stringent for glass door reach-ins, and will effectively eliminate 50% of the refrigerators and 70% of the freezers available on the market less than two years ago.

All of which means the original Energy Star standard is now somewhat moot, and it's time to raise that bar. Which happens periodically anyway, for one of a few reasons. If technologies advance quickly, Energy Star looks at raising the bar. If state or federal requirements eclipse the standard, the bar goes up. Or if market penetration rises to a point where Energy Star's significance is diluted, the standard gets raised.

The refrigeration standard is nine years old now. More than 1,500 refrigerator and freezer models from 28 manufacturers now carry Energy Star labels—about 66% market penetration in 2008, according to Rebecca Duff, senior manager at ICF International, consultant to the Energy Star program.

Version 2.0 Right Now
So it's time, and Energy Star has raised the bar. Version 2.0 takes effect Jan. 1, coinciding with the federal eclipse of the old standard. Perhaps surprisingly, the new Energy Star requirements are based on data from National Resources Canada, not any U.S. organization. Manufacturers suggested using NRC's database because the Canadian test method requires that all accessories be turned on, providing more accurate energy use data and allowing a more “apples-to-apples” comparison of different models.

In most cases, refrigeration that meets Version 2.0 standards will be 30% more energy efficient on average than standard units. And keeping in mind the bar for minimum efficiency requirements on standard equipment goes up at the same time, it means next year's Energy Star reach-in refrigerators and freezers will be vastly more efficient than their counterparts of just a few years ago.

New to Version 2.0 are specs for glass door reach-ins. The old criteria covered only solid door refrigerators and freezers, but manufacturers now can apply for Energy Star labels on glass- and mixed-door models, too. That will give you an even wider range of Energy Star models to choose from.

What's it all mean in dollars? Compared to standard models, Energy Star refrigerators and freezers can save you an average of around 30% in energy, providing a payback as short as a year and four months. Depending on energy pricing, you can expect to save about $170 annually per refrigerator and $120 per freezer. Replacing all existing commercial refrigerators and freezers in the United States with Energy Star models would, according to EPA estimates, result in savings of almost $250 million per year, or roughly 25% of the energy consumed by models currently on the market.

Visit
www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=commer_refrig.pr_commercial_refrigerators for a list of qualified models.

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