Recent CARB regulations have set mandatory global warming potential (GWP) compliance levels for retail food facilities. These impact what types of refrigerants are available for use. For companies that own over 20 facilities, a cap of 2,500 GWP average across all facilities, or 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emission potential from 2018 levels, must be met by 2026. By 2030, the cap drops to 1,400 on average, or a 55% reduction. Companies owning less than 20 facilities must comply with the 2030 deadlines.
Retrofits are an ideal solution when refrigeration equipment such as display cases, refrigeration racks, and condensers are in good condition but GWP must be lowered. During a retrofit, a refrigeration system is emptied of its current refrigerant and recharged with a new refrigerant. Retrofits allow for equipment to remain, resulting in minimal impact to a store, while still working toward compliance goals.
But while regulations, and reducing GWP, are important for knowing when refrigerants should be retrofitted, they aren’t the only indicator that a retrofit is due. Ultimately, regulations dictate when a retrofit must occur—but refrigerant cost dictates when it should occur.
As regulations move forward and refrigerants like HCFCs and HFCs are phased out due to their high GWP, it’s smart for stores to explore forward-thinking options. Phasing out gases causes their supply to decrease and their cost per pound to increase—which means a small leak can suddenly become expensive. On the flip side, the sell-back value of gases also goes up as they become scarcer, which creates an opportunity for stores to sell their gas at a profit and help offset retrofitting expense.
Store leak rate is another consideration for retrofit timing. Refrigerant leaks are an unfortunate aspect of refrigeration systems. Because leaks can be costly, it’s important to catch them early and repair them quickly. Leaks can have multiple causes, such as degraded or old gaskets and seals, or even vibrating refrigeration racks. If a store’s leak rate is high, it may be time not only to retrofit but to upgrade the refrigeration system. Motor room upgrades to compressor components help prevent future leaks and keep systems running efficiently.
A fast way to determine a leak exists is with vertical refrigerant receivers. Unlike traditional horizontal receivers, vertical receivers can detect relatively minute liquid level drops. Vertical receivers offer finer resolution, which means leaks can be detected earlier to minimize overall refrigerant loss. When comparing a vertical receiver and a horizontal receiver of the same size and gas, a 2% drop in liquid level yields highly different results. A horizontal receiver would leak nearly double what a vertical receiver would. Vertical receivers also require less refrigerant to be stored to operate correctly, lowering the overall charge of the system.
Given dual goals of compliance and profitability, retrofits are the ideal time for a refrigeration system upgrade—whether it’s upgrading a condenser, replacing high side valves, or simply replacing all affected o-rings, Schrader cores, and gaskets. With a retrofit, a system is emptied and reset. Any contaminants or non-condensable that enter the system are removed and the system is wiped clean. But with an upgrade and retrofit, a store can move purposely towards having a clean, compliant, leak-tight refrigeration system. That’s a win for the environment—and for business.