The power of digital integration

By Heather Wilkinson

In response to the urgent global need to meet climate targets, there is a clear emphasis  on reducing energy demand, with industries actively pursuing reductions. However, the refrigeration sector has not fully recognized the potential for substantial energy benefits. It is necessary to overhaul both conventional architectures and the prevailing mindset among original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), which currently confines them to design systems within the limitations of their components.

Fortunately, the emergence of digital integration presents opportunities for achieving optimal efficiency and unlocking the system’s full potential. This transformation is crucial, as energy consumption plays a pivotal role in determining the environmental and economic impact of refrigeration systems.

Conventional refrigeration systems, characterized by manual, pressure-driven, or analog controls, manifest inefficiencies contributing to excessive energy use, elevated greenhouse gas emissions, and heightened operational costs.

The industry continues to centre its approach on designing within the limitations of devices and methods such as condenser flooding, heated receivers, and water requirements. Conventional systems, tailored to accommodate these limitations, result in heightened energy consumption, increased operating pressure, and elevated operational stress. This approach diminishes the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the cooling process, shortens the system’s life expectancy, and necessitates more frequent servicing.

The transition towards digital controls and smart infrastructure signifies a substantial leap in mitigating environmental impact while simultaneously enhancing benefits for system owners. The efficiency achievable is determined by how digital technology is implemented. To fully harness the complete potential of electronic components and the energy benefits of digitization, it is essential to go beyond simply integrating sensors and digital controls into traditional designs, where isolated components lack communication and operate independently.

Adopting a comprehensive approach is crucial, as focusing on individual components alone is insufficient. The transition should begin with establishing a completely interconnected system. Low-pressure platforms, integrated with a building automation system (BAS), facilitate a connection throughout the system. Linking each device through a dedicated local area network (LAN), fosters seamless communication and data sharing across the platform. The system’s connectivity and communication capabilities are integral to its success. Digital integration allows end-users to observe, comprehend, and fine-tune parameters to enhance performance efficiency, ultimately leading to cost savings.

Unified system design aggregates thousands of real-time data points, creating an optimal operational framework. Advanced algorithms continuously analyze data, adjusting settings based on variables such as temperature, humidity, and system load. The processed data is shared across the platform, transmitting meaningful information that improves the performance of every device.

Electronic controls eliminate the need for conventional pressure differentials and leverage low compression ratios, which lowers discharge temperatures and minimizes secondary waste heat. Reducing compression ratios decreases the work required by the compressor, which leads to a more responsive and efficient process that minimizes energy waste and reduces the overall carbon footprint. When each part of the system is digitally optimized and can influence all other components, it creates a ripple effect that impacts the entire system.

Enhancing equipment performance through digital integration reduces energy consumption and fosters a sustainable approach to refrigeration. It offers more than just environmental benefits; it benefits system owners financially. Remote capabilities enable achieving greater equipment longevity through enhanced system protection, immediate anomaly notifications, and the ability to intervene promptly, ensuring durability and reliability.

Access to all pertinent information eliminates guesswork, simplifying the management and monitoring of refrigeration systems. The resulting energy savings from increased efficiency directly reduce operational costs, enhancing overall profitability. Furthermore, embracing smart technologies positions system owners to meet stringent environmental regulations and opens potential opportunities for securing government support through energy grants or programs.

Upon discovering the energy and longevity benefits of the fully integrated Oxford Low-Pressure Platform with Solar (OLPP-S), the Co-op opted to replace compressors and condenser coils serving retail cases, the walk-in cooler, and the freezer. With support from ERA, they embarked on a retrofit project to significantly reduce energy costs and enhance overall operational efficiency. This initiative resulted in a $92,000 incentive payout for the Co-op from the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction Fund.

 

Case study: Digital integration at work

Complete outdoor skid at Cornerstone
Co-op, Mannville, AB.

In pursuing a sustainable future, governments worldwide actively promote initiatives, such as grants and targeted campaigns, encouraging businesses to reduce their carbon footprint. One such initiative is Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA), a government run incentive program that supports businesses in enhancing operational efficiency while simultaneously lowering emissions. ERA’s commitment to promoting cost-effective, energy-efficient technologies aligned perfectly with the goals of Cornerstone Co-op in Mannville, AB.

The cooperative was operating a system with obsolete technology that had exceeded its intended lifespan. Confronted with high energy consumption and escalating repair costs, the owners hesitated to invest in similar equipment that would replicate the inefficiencies of their current system. The existing system ran continuously at maximum parameters with static setpoints, an unnecessary practice leading to energy wastage.

An HMI provides easy access to data generated by components with the Co-op’s complete energy profile.

Lacking an energy management system to monitor their operations, they sought a scalable platform that would allow the business to attain dependable equipment performance, enhance efficiency, achieve cost savings, and align with environmental goals.

 

Results:

The Co-op invested in a complete outdoor skid without any conventional characteristics. The innovative design of the low-pressure platform yields impressive results, utilizing a low-pressure refrigerant in an environment with temperatures ranging from 40°C to -50°C. The new, fully integrated platform, driven by advanced digital technologies, facilitates comprehensive system management through BAS. This empowers the Co-op to monitor its system’s performance effortlessly, providing valuable insights into how their refrigeration affects their business and environmental objectives.

The system incorporates a built-in energy meter, functioning like a third-party device. It communicates through Modbus, meticulously tracking power usage for compression, condenser, walk-in cooler, freezer evaporator fans, and defrost heaters. Thanks to the net optimizing benefits of the BAS, the average energy reduction is 50 to 60 per cent compared to the previous system. The Co-op’s efficiency gains, robust system management capabilities, and the enhanced adaptability and performance of its refrigeration system underscore the power of a well thought out digital transition

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