How can shops have greener fridges?

With more than half the energy used by supermarkets said to be from fridges and freezers, we look at how consumers can help to save energy. Small retailers too may find they can save a huge amount on bills.

Greener fridges in shops and supermarkets

Alongside the new energy labels for domestic fridges and freezers which came into law in March 2021, a labelling system is finally being introduced for commercial fridges and freezers used in shops.

Although it's likely to have a high level of non-compliance early on, it is still set to make it much easier to compare the energy efficiency of different models, relative to their size. Minimum efficiency requirements will also become stricter as the system is established, and push improvements that way.

Comparing kWh (size) is key

As with the domestic energy labels, it's the annual kWh figure on the labels that really matters. A QR code also links to more information, but the European system is more structured than the UK’s about what detail should be included.

The difference between the most and least efficient options available is pretty huge and could save around £2,000 a year in energy bills for one 2.5m display fridge, or up to almost £4,000 for a display freezer of the same size.

Cost and best options for commercial fridges

Commercial fridges cost thousands, but with the savings available in running costs, and possibly also small business grant schemes to help reduce carbon emissions, an upgrade is definitely worth looking into. If you are a retailer the first place to ask is your local authority. Grants could come under the name of decarbonisation, or support for ‘green entrepreneurs’. Some are looking for ‘innovation’ – if this is the case you could talk to your nearest university about collaboration over designing bespoke systems for optimisation.

The best choice is probably a well-insulated cabinet with doors, and a remote motor if space allows, so that heat is not being pumped out into the same place the fridge is trying to cool down in. This can also help prolong the life of fresh vegetables or other heat sensitive food products that may be in the shop, like chocolate, or even remove the need for air conditioning in the summer. Whatever type of retail fridge you have, keep clear the compressor area where the heat escapes, or you’ll get a thick build up of dust which causes obstruction.

Refrigerant gases are a big deal

HFC refrigerant gases (hydrofluorocarbons) with high global warming potential (GWP), which were already banned in new domestic fridges and freezers in the EU since 2015, have since 2020 been banned in commercial appliances too. The GWP shows how much a gas contributes to global warming, compared to carbon dioxide. But keep your eyes peeled as models with high GWP may still be on the market. Beware of R404A and R507A, which have been commonly used, and have a shocking GWP of over 2500. There are several alternatives with a GWP of even less than 1.

Although the refrigerants in fridges are technically in a sealed system and should be recovered safely at the end of an appliance’s working life, it is estimated that leaks can account for up to 25% of the emissions from cold storage. The proper disposal of commercial equipment is even more important than that of domestic due to the gases that may be used, as well as the potential for recycling the rest of the materials used.

Things to check before purchasing an eco commercial fridge

  • ask the supplier about reliability, availability of spare parts and ease of repair e.g. are parts easily sourced in the UK and quickly available?
  • check the small print for things like use of R404A or R507A refrigerant gases - these have been banned since 2020 for their high global warming potential
  • it's a large investment so check out the supplier and/or manufacturer on Trustpilot and ask for recommendations in your networks

What can consumers do? Close the doors (if they exist!)

Consumers can help shops and supermarkets save energy and running costs by keeping the fridge and freezer doors closed as much as possible. But, this may be tricky if there are no doors in the first place.

Although the HFC regulation is something shops and supermarkets can’t avoid, the government is not requiring them to make further emissions savings by fitting doors to their fridge displays, despite huge public petitions.

60-70% of energy used by UK supermarkets is said to be for fridges and freezers.

Some chains are opting for the cheaper and easier option of aerofoils, attachments to the shelf edges that redirect cool air into the fridge, and save around 18% on energy use. Doors however can save 30-60%.

Apparently, if all UK supermarkets put doors on their open fridges, the electricity saved would be approximately double that generated by Europe’s second largest coal-fired power station – Drax in Yorkshire.

Doors would also keep the temperatures inside the fridge more uniform, and could even lengthen the life of food, allowing manufacturers to publish longer use by dates.

You could check your local shops and supermarkets to see if their fridges have doors or other attachments, and if not, contact the company to suggest it. Our guide to supermarkets has links to their company profiles.