With a firm commitment to a greener future, Woolworths has been investing in innovative ways to reduce emissions from its supermarkets for the past 15 years.
This journey has seen the retailer evolve from conventional refrigerants to CO2 cascade systems, and lead the local industry with transcritical CO2 refrigeration technology.
At the same time, Woolworths transitioned its supermarkets from conventional Input Output (IO) refrigeration control systems to distributed digital control through its eSpecification initiative.
In both cases, Woolworths has relied on its close partnership with Emerson to deliver the technology, solutions, knowledge, and experience required to bring its ambitions to life not just for supermarkets, but for the benefit of the broader industry and the environment.
As far back as 2006, Woolworths’ sustainability strategy committed to an ambitious 40 per cent reduction in emissions by 2015, based on 2007 levels. Direct emissions were largely due to the refrigerants it used whereas indirect emissions were attributable to offsite power generation.
The strategy would therefore require a transition away from high GWP refrigerants and major changes to energy efficiency across its refrigeration, air conditioning and lighting systems, which together accounted for around 90 per cent of its total energy consumption.
With its emissions target set for the next eight years, Woolworths had the impetus it needed to drive energy efficiency with carbon dioxide (CO2) natural refrigerants.
In 2006 Woolworths introduced a Cascade CO2 hybrid system combining both carbon dioxide and conventional synthetic refrigerants, before piloting its first 100% CO2 system in 2017 with Emerson by its side.
“The shift to pure transcritical CO2 refrigeration was exciting for Woolworths, but it wasn’t without challenges,” according to Dario Ferlin, national sustainable engineering manager, Format and Network Development, Woolworths Food Group.
“We faced a serious local skills gap when it came to delivering and supporting this type of system, particularly when compared to European markets.”
Woolworths realised it would need to create a local CO2 industry ecosystem to ensure its transcritical CO2 investment would deliver on its goals for the long term, and it looked to Emerson to provide the technology and expertise that would help accomplish that.
With the development of Connect+ cloud-based enterprise application in close cooperation with Emerson, Woolworths achieved the ability to closely monitor each store’s transcritical CO2 environment in real time, which was critical for introducing the new technology into stores.
“Emerson Connect+ enterprise application connects every Woolworths supermarket across the country, so regardless of where our support teams are located, we can interrogate and monitor the situation in individual stores,” Ferlin said.
“If we’re piloting in a new technology, there’s no longer a need to necessarily fly across the country to investigate an issue or check that our design specification is on track, or if the specification requires adjustment.
“Connect+ delivers exceptional value to us and is certainly one of the aces up Emerson’s sleeve.”
The development of Emerson’s refrigeration pack controller for transcritical applications was an important innovation for Woolworth’s success in this space.
“Emerson was already supplying European customers with distributed control solutions, so it was easy to work with its team to develop a control solution for our eSpecification initiative,” Ferlin said.
As distributed control solutions for transcritical refrigeration was a relatively new concept in Australia – especially for Woolworths’ refrigerated showcase manufacturers, installers and contractors - Woolworths needed to get partner onboard in a way that ensured good economies of scale and a consistent standard of quality across all supermarket installations.
“It's been three years since our first store went transcritical, and three years of weekly workshops with Emerson where we continue to work through the opportunities for improving the controller for transcritical applications,” he said.
Despite making a public commitment to have 10 transcritical CO2 refrigeration stores by 2020 as part of its sustainabilitystrategy, Woolworths doubled its goal with 20 transcritical stores by the end of 2020.
By driving energy efficiency and natural refrigerants from 2007 to 2015, Woolworths managed to abate its BAU trajectory based on 2007, by 40 per cent by 2015.
“We are now aiming to reach a new target of reducing our 2015 emissions level by 63 per cent by 2030,” Ferlin said.
“Woolworths plans to achieve this through a continued commitment to transcritical CO2 refrigeration and exploring further opportunities to cut emissions.”
Ferlin recognises that the new target is very ambitious, as refrigeration systems typically account for about half a store’s energy consumption.
That is 50 per cent of indirect emissions and about 25 per cent of a store’s direct emissions.
“Those refrigeration assets will remain the biggest opportunity for reducing emissions over the next decade,” he said.
“Transcritical CO2 will play a big part in our strategy. It is almost the holy grail of climate control.
“There are challenges, but there are also opportunities and we want to unlock its full potential across refrigeration, air conditioning and heating in all its guises – like integrating the refrigeration system with air conditioning and heating systems to reduce overall emissions.
“We’re already investigating how a store’s refrigeration waste heat can be best used to heat the store and we’re seeing some solid energy saving potential.”
Through its shift to transcritical and distributed control systems, Woolworths has also invested in building a cohesive technology partner ecosystem to support and ‘futureproof’ its systems, and invariably those of other food and grocery retailers.
“As a principal stakeholder in the commercial refrigeration industry we want to play our part in building world-class skills and capabilities locally,” Ferlin said.
“We remain passionate about learning and growing with local partners like Emerson to deliver the best possible solutions for our needs and improving technology for the broader industry in Australia.
“Emerson has been a true technology partner in so many ways, and what we have already achieved together is a solid showcase for what is possible with Emerson products and solutions.”