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Kroger Slices Energy Demand

Facilities managers are becoming relentless in their pursuit of energy efficiency. One retailer's story - and what it says about the opening volley in a revolution of how electricity will be used in America.

Kroger, your neighborhood grocery, is in the vanguard of the energy revolution. And one big skirmish has been won in the deli section. Call it a quiet engagement in an epic battle for energy efficiency that promises to turn on its head century-old utility financial arrangements and touch every business and consumer in the land.

You need go no further than your local Kroger to witness the war up close. “There is a solid decade or more of energy efficiency works ahead of us,” says Denis George, energy manager at Kroger Co., in Cincinnati.

Our story starts at the meat counter, where Kroger staffers were scratching their heads wondering if there was a way to improve a device that blankets meat items in plastic and then seals the packaging. For ages, it has been a hot plate – constantly sucking electricity.

Denis George, Kroger Co. energy manager.

Kroger reached out to the machine manufacturer, Heat Seal, and asked them to reengineer the device so that it could go instantly on – when needed – then shut off. Ron Zieske, the owner of Heat Seal, a 60-year-old company in Cleveland, went to work. “We had our engineers brainstorm.”

They figured out how to deploy new technology so components that took 10 minutes to heat up could reach 350 degrees in three seconds or less – virtually an “instant on.” Kroger then took the new device to Southern California Edison’s Energy Education Centers to be thoroughly tested. It also worked with Zieske to conduct tests of the unit in five stores in Cincinnati. The wrapper-sealers were ready for prime time and Kroger started deploying 10,000 of them three years ago, Zieske said.

Bottom line, each unit that previously soaked up 600 watts have become high-tech dreams operating on just 10 percent of the energy previously required, George said. Across 2,600 stores, several million dollars of electricity is being saved each year as a result of one retailer’s desire to wrap its hamburger meat more efficiently.

George said the effort reflects Kroger’s ongoing commitment to comb every aspect of its business – such as LED lighting in its refrigeration cases and its parking lots – to save energy. Whenever possible, Kroger tries to work with its local utilities to tap into their energy efficiency incentives, George said. Across the company, it tapped $5 million in such incentives in 2013 and it aimed to hit $5.4 million last year, with three employees working full time on the effort.

“We are looking at every little thing to save energy, and it all adds up,” he said.

For Zieske and his 75-employee equipment manufacturing firm, new goals have been set. “There are 150,000 installed wrapper-sealer units in North America,” he said. “Our mission is to convert all of them, one store at a time.”

Thus a gathering energy revolution gains speed, device by device, across America.

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