NASRC interviewed Frank Davis, Director of Facility Engineering at Sprouts Farmers Market, for his perspective and experience with natural refrigerants.
Q: Why was it important to join NASRC? What do you hope to gain?
A: We were motivated to join after the NASRC workshop at SMUD. When I saw all the partners involved that share Sprouts’ interest in taking steps to explore natural refrigerants, I recognized that being a member will help us gain a better understanding of how to manage and operate natural refrigerant systems. The workshop and membership reminded me of the GreenChill program, where collaboration really helped to share end-user experiences and opened the door to connect with others.
Q: What technologies and refrigerants have you tested?
A: We currently have three sites. One CO2 cascade system in California, built in 2011, that is using 407a on the high side. This system has had no leaks on the HFC refrigerant side to date. We also have a CO2 transcritical system in Georgia, complete in 2013, and another Sprouts that opened there this June with parallel compression. We are now looking for another site in Sacramento.
Q: What drove you to test natural refrigerants?
A: Natural refrigerants are the future for Sprouts stores. It has been only talk over the last 5 to 10 years, but now it’s here and is only going to accelerate. We really needed to explore the technology and get our feet wet to discover and overcome the challenges, including cost, energy, maintenance and serviceability.
Q: Was it difficult to find technicians to service these systems?
A: Hillphoenix provided training after the opening of our store in Georgia, but finding qualified technicians to provide ongoing service is difficult.
Q: Was the new system more expensive? If so, how did you justify internally?
A: The new systems were more costly, but the pilot will help Sprouts learn what works for us so we will be prepared for future regulatory changes. Our investment in this technology helps further Sprouts’ commitment to responsible retailing, and as a member of the NASRC, I hope that our learnings can help other retailers.
Q: What was biggest challenge compared to a traditional system?
A: The installation was very straightforward, but the biggest challenge since has been the general cost of ownership. The system requires specific maintenance, which calls for more hours and more costly parts in addition to storage and rental for CO2 tanks. We expect the third store to show energy savings and are looking forward to seeing how it counteracts these costs.
Q: What was the biggest benefit or gain?
A: We’re gaining a base of experience and data which will make it easier for us to manage changing regulations. New technology always brings a learning curve, but we keep learning and growing as we experience it.
Q: Would you do it again? Why or why not?
A: Yes. Overall, the systems are more complex to manage, but increasing our learnings is worth the challenge. In the future, I would like to see a store with only self-contained cases which would help reduce costs and minimize maintenance.