Digital screens are increasingly being used in retail stores, refrigerated food options are expanding and employees are using electrical devices such as tablets more and more. This all consumes large amounts of energy. Retail companies are faced with the challenge of saving costs and engaging in the fight against climate change while still remaining competitive. It is therefore not surprising that the topic of energy management is becoming increasingly important in retail.
For the EHI Retail Institute's Energy Management in Retail 2023 study (available in German), retail companies in the DACH region were surveyed in August on energy consumption in their stores. This study examines the consumption of electrical and thermal energy used to operate sales areas and facilities in the store network.
We have highlighted some of the figures on energy consumption and energy saving in retail from the report. Combined with examples from the industry of the savings measures taken by retailers, this is intended to encourage others to address this important issue.
Data from 56 companies from the categories food (e.g. supermarkets and discount stores), non-food (e.g. drugstores, department stores, textile and electrical retailers) and other (e.g. kiosks and small convenience stores) were analyzed with regard to energy consumption.
What is electricity used for in brick-and-mortar retail and how can it be saved?
There are major differences between food and non-food retail outlets in terms of how much electrical energy is used for which areas of the business.
The average electricity consumption in the food sector is 306 kWh. At 89 kWh, the non-food retail sector consumes less than a third of the electricity on average. According to an estimate by the EHI study, a continuous reduction in electricity consumption can be observed in small steps from 2018 to 2023: from 321 to 306 kWh in the food sector and from 104 to 89 kWh in the non-food sector.
In food retail, the largest share of electricity consumption – almost 50 percent – is used to refrigerate food. This also explains why you hardly ever see refrigeration and freezer cabinets without doors in brick-and-mortar stores anymore; many retailers have retrofitted them in recent years.
Consumption figures in the study are given in kilowatt hours (kWh) per square meter (sqm) of sales area (Vkf) per year (a): kWh/(sqm Vkf · a) – abbreviated to kWh in the following for ease of reading.
Share of electricity consumption
in food retail Lighting: 21 % Refrigeration: 49 % Air conditioning: 13 % Other: 17 %
in non-food retail Lighting: 58 % Air conditioning: 29 % Other: 13 %
In the non-food sector, lighting is the item with the highest consumption at just under 60 percent. This item also accounts for 21 percent in grocery retail. Energy-saving LED lamps can have a major savings effect here. The retail chain SPAR International reports that Croatian stores switched to LED as early as 2014. In addition, sensors were installed to determine the lighting requirements depending on the lighting conditions. The lighting time of exterior and advertising lighting has been reduced and the interior lighting is also turned down after closing time, for example, when employees are restocking the shelves.
Another sustainable way to save energy costs is to produce your own electricity. Many retail companies such as Walmart, SPAR, Target and IKEA equip the roofs of their stores, warehouses and vehicle fleet buildings with solar systems. The proportion of electricity generated by the companies surveyed using their own renewable energy systems is still very low on average, at around 4 percent. However, the expansion is picking up speed and in some cases figures of up to 20 percent were given.
How can the consumption of thermal energy be reduced?
In terms of average heat energy consumption for heating the premises, the difference between food retail (88 kWh) and non-food retail (51 kWh) is not nearly as great as for electricity consumption.
In recent years, the food retail sector has made great progress in using waste heat from refrigeration systems to reduce energy consumption for heating. The average amount of heat consumption covered by waste heat is now 26 percent.
Danfoss, a manufacturer of heating and cooling technology, is exploring sustainable solutions for the food retail sector that protect the environment while saving energy and energy costs. In a supermarket in Nordborg, Denmark, which serves as the company's test center for innovations, excess heat from food refrigeration is used to heat the supermarket. According to Danfoss, the result: heating costs have been reduced by up to 90 percent. We recently reported on this zero-emission supermarket and its energy efficiency technologies.
Energy and sustainability – two highly relevant topics for the future that are inextricably linked. Whether you want to refrigerate food, heat your store, illuminate your floor space, or keep an eye on your energy consumption: You will find solutions and know-how for this – how cool! – in the Dimension Refrigeration & Energy Management at EuroShop.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions – using the example of refrigeration and logistics
Global warming and emissions with a greenhouse effect form a negative spiral: greenhouse gas emissions warm the earth's atmosphere, which in turn leads to the need for more cooling with higher emissions and higher energy costs. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is therefore an essential climate protection measure for the coming decades.
According to an assessment by 34 of the retail chains surveyed, the following five areas of action offer the greatest potential for reducing greenhouse gases:
Emissions savings can also be achieved in the field of refrigeration technology. Together with refrigeration technology provider Emerson, the supermarket chain Co-op UK has tested innovative CO2 refrigeration systems that also work efficiently in small store formats. The US supermarket chain Kroger is also pushing ahead with the switch to low-emission refrigerants. According to the company, it also relies on strict monitoring of leaks using infrared detectors. Kroger is a member of the North American Sustainable Refrigeration Council: the environmental organization promotes the use of natural refrigerants in North America.
Test, invest, accelerate: fit for the future
To reduce energy consumption in a targeted manner, a company must be able to track usage. Consumption peaks and fluctuations can reveal potential savings. Many companies therefore invest in centralized energy monitoring. According to the EHI study, well over half of retail companies have integrated at least 90 percent of their stores into such an energy consumption monitoring system.
Investing in transparency and in new technologies and fuels, replacing old appliances and refurbishing buildings is financially challenging. Many large retail chains are doing pioneering work here, from which smaller companies can also learn and benefit – as can we all in the end.
The data and charts on energy management at DACH retail chains presented here are only excerpts. Further information on the methodology or on topics such as energy purchasing, energy monitoring and investments in energy efficiency can be found in the full version of the EHI study Energy Management in Retail 2023 (in German).