© Mariusz Smiejek / Fotogloria

Conway’s travels

Newcastle, Belfast, Coleraine – Joe Conway traveled around Ireland’s green countryside and lively cities for several months. He was targeting the country’s supermarkets.


Joe Conway’s head is deep inside a freezer cabinet. He has been counting all the fans and every single light fitting. Then he comes out, writes down the numbers, and pulls the folding rule that he uses to measure the surfaces in the frozen foods section from his pocket. The commercial manager of the Cross Group is examining the SPAR supermarket in Belfast; just like he previously did in Newcastle and Coleraine. He has been examining Northern Ireland’s supermarkets like this for several months.

“I went to each of the 70 stores myself.
This was the only way to pinpoint the project’s scope.”

Joe Conway, Commercial Manager of the Cross Group

Conway has a major project underway: in only three months, the cooling technology expert must replace 2,000 fans and just as many light fittings in the freezer cabinets in 70 of the Henderson Group’s stores. The company is one of the largest retail brands in Northern Ireland. In addition to the company’s own 85 stores, it has the SPAR and EUROSPAR brand franchise for the country, comprising over 450 stores. The main challenge: “We have to keep the stores open while replacing the parts,” said Conway. “This is why we had to create the optimal plan. We didn’t want to disturb the store customers.”

Impressive savings potential

But first, back to the beginning: The retrofit was Dr. Glen Crumley’s idea. He is the Henderson Group’s energy manager. “Part of my job is to propose a measure for lowering the Group’s energy costs and carbon emissions every year,” Dr. Crumley said. When he met Tony Wright from ebm-papst UK at a conference in London, he learned about a new option. “Wright’s presentation there was about how much energy you can save by replacing AC fans in cooling systems with EC fans,” he added. Since cooling systems consume between 30 and 60 percent of the energy in supermarkets, he considered it a key point of departure. “I was impressed by the numbers, but also appreciate the quality of the products and ebm-papst’s guarantees and company history. So I gave the order for the retrofit to Cross Group and required them to procure the EC fans from ebm-papst,” he explained. Alongside the fans, they were asked to replace all the light bulbs in the freezer cabinets with LEDs.

Nothing left to chance

After management at Henderson gave its approval, the Cross Group kicked off the planning phase. “I received information from the store managers,” said Conway. “But I couldn’t use it for detailed planning. So I went to each of the 70 stores myself. This was the only way to pinpoint the project’s scope.” The Cross Group trained six subcontractors to do the replacement work. Conway supplied them with plans. “The plans told them where they should park to avoid any inconvenience to store customers and how they had to behave inside the store and deal with customers, for example,” he said. But they also specified how many fans had to be put in which refrigerated display cases, which ones needed adapters and which precautionary safety measures they would have to take.

“The retrofit went smoothly.”

Dr. Glen Crumley, Energy Manager of the Henderson Group

“The Henderson Group’s stores are very busy, people are always entering and leaving. We didn’t want to get in the way.” Since the Cross Group needed the assistance of the store employees, who had to empty the refrigerated display cases before their arrival and fill them immediately after the work was completed, the work could only be done during the day, although some of the Group’s stores are open around the clock.
After a six-month planning phase, the subcontractors started retrofitting. They replaced between 20 and 60 fans and light fittings per store, which took anywhere from a few hours to a maximum of two days. “The retrofit went smoothly,” said Dr. Crumley. “They did not have to do any mechanical work on the unit bases and the fans could be replaced one-to-one. Only 15 percent of cases required an adapter. And for the most part, the stores could operate normally.” After three months, the retrofit was completed.

Store employees had to empty the refrigerated display cases and fill them immediately after the retrofit work was done. (Photo | Mariusz Smiejek / Fotogloria)

Savings for the bottom line and the environment

The Henderson Group is really saving now. The retrofit reduced the fans and lights energy usage by 70 percent. As Conway explained: “The EC fans are not only more efficient, they give off less heat — which translates into less cooling. The savings are tremendous.”

By replacing the fans and lighting the Group saves over 200,000 euros per year.

In total, the old AC fans consumed almost 800,000 kWh per year, but the new axial EC fans use just under 150,000 kWh. By replacing the fans and lighting the Group saves over 200,000 euros per year. The investment will be paid for after 20 months and the new fans are more reliable, quieter and have longer service lives. The environment also benefits: After the retrofit, the Henderson Group emitted 550 less tonnes of carbon per annum. “The project was definitely one of our largest and most complicated,” said the commercial manager. “But it was well worth the effort.”

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