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The future is measurement and analysis

24 April 2023

There are major changes on the cards regarding energy consumption and the future of the cold store warehouse, says Shane Brennan.

COLD STORES have made strong and steady improvement in energy efficiency over the past decade, prompted by regulations, customer requirements, tax savings under the cold storage Climate Change Agreement and the opportunity to cut energy bills. This latter incentive has unsurprisingly come to the fore over the past year as operators have navigated the energy crisis and, at an industry level, the response to sky-rocketing bills has included a significant acceleration of investment in improving the energy efficiency of cold stores throughout the UK. 

We can expect this dynamic to persist well into the future: energy costs are set to remain high, Government regulations will become increasingly stringent, and consumers expect an environmentally responsible supply chain. The highly energy efficient cold storage facilities of the future will help the cold chain to minimise bills, to meet evolving customer expectations and new regulatory requirements, and to build resilience to future volatility in the energy market. 

This future of low energy usage cold stores has measurement and analysis at its foundation. Sub-metering and scrutiny of live data is already enabling leading-edge operators to ascertain precisely where and when energy use could be minimised, and where current wastage could be avoided. Analysing energy use can also give early indications of any issues with equipment requiring maintenance, reducing further wastage through sub-optimal system operation and eventual equipment failure. 

Shane Brennan will speak at the Tomorrow’s Warehouse Event on June 8 at Coventry’s CBS Arena.

This is a great opportunity to lean more about the future of the cold store, as well as network with like-minded professionals.

Registration is free and open now - https://tomorrowswarehouse.live

New cold storage buildings coming on stream today are looking to the future with energy efficiency at their core, not only in the insulation of the building envelope but also by minimising ingress through doors and openings, in efficient use of lighting, and by designing for automation. Fully automated densely racked chambers, robotic picking operations or smaller areas of mobile racking can all support significant improvements in cold storage energy efficiency. In an automated store, door openings can be kept to an absolute minimum and supplemented with air locks, and lighting can be much reduced. 

But improving energy efficiency is not solely in the cold store design. Improving operation and maintenance of key cold store equipment such as refrigeration systems also has a major role to play. And crucially, alongside these investments in future-facing buildings and equipment, operators are embedding an energy efficiency culture and supporting cold chain people in changing behaviours.

Looking to the longer term, generating renewable energy on site has become increasingly attractive in light of sky-high energy prices. Uptake of solar panels was particularly strong in 2022. Due to their large land footprint and common location in non-residential areas many more cold storage facilities are well placed to consider investing in on-site energy production to take control of their own energy use and reduce reliance on the national grid.

As high energy users cold stores are also ideal candidates for ‘demand side response’, an agreement that can support resilience in the wider energy network and derive additional revenue for the cold store. A cold store switching off or reducing energy usage for a short period of time can support grid balancing, with the cold store becoming a virtual battery. This mechanism has been used by some operators for many years as part of triad agreements with network operators, and we can expect it to play a greater role in the UK’s future energy systems.

There is little doubt that energy efficiency lies at the heart of the cold stores of the future. 

Shane Brennan, chief executive, Cold Chain Federation 

Read the Net Zero Project report, The Cold Store of 2050, at https://bit.ly/3Ajplwo