© Keith Tsuji

Retrofit in the super­market: cool for the climate

The DFI Retail Group wants to dras­ti­cally reduce its energy consump­tion and has launched a huge retrofit project in its approx­i­mately 1,000 super­mar­kets and grocery stores in Hong Kong: 10,000 of its older venti­lation drives have been replaced by energy-effi­cient EC motors.

Every morning at eight o’clock, the Market Place super­market in Hong Kong’s “The Wai” shop­ping mall opens its doors to the public. The shop­ping mall is located above Tai Wai station, a subway hub in the north of the city. Thou­sands of customers reach into the refrig­er­ated display cases and enjoy the fresh produce right up until closing time at 11 p.m. Jon Abel, for his part, is pleased that the refrig­er­a­tion of these prod­ucts is now much more effi­cient.

The Market Place super­market is just one of many thou­sands that Abel looks after. He is Group Facil­i­ties Manage­ment Director at the DFI Retail Group, one of Asia’s largest retailers. In this role, he is respon­sible for ensuring that oper­a­tions run smoothly in the 10,600 super­mar­kets and grocery stores that the group oper­ates in 13 coun­tries under 27 brands. Besides Market Place, this also includes the Well­come super­mar­kets and 7-Eleven stores, which satisfy the hunger and thirst of millions of people in the Pearl River Delta Metro­pol­itan Region. Three years ago, DFI set itself a climate program: “We want to emit 50 percent less CO2 by 2030 and be climate-neutral by 2050,” says Abel.

The two retrofit makers


Jon Abel

Group Facil­i­ties Manage­ment Director
at DFI Retail Group


“Here in Asia, it’s very hot all year round with high humidity. We have to combat these envi­ron­mental condi­tions on a daily basis to keep the temper­a­ture low. The refrig­er­ator and freezer shelves are there­fore an impor­tant factor in reducing energy consump­tion.”

Jon Abel


Joe Chow

Head of Energy and Sustain­ability Depart­ment at City Facil­i­ties Manage­ment (HKG) Ltd.


“We support our customers with a wide range of facility manage­ment services, including routine main­te­nance of equip­ment or clever strate­gies to save energy. That´s why we decided to replace the AC-motors with EC tech­nology.”

Joe Chow

To tackle this task, Abel enlisted the help of Joe Chow, who heads the Energy and Sustain­ability depart­ment at City Facil­i­ties Manage­ment (HKG) Ltd., one of the world’s largest facility manage­ment compa­nies: “We support our customers with a wide range of facility manage­ment services, including routine main­te­nance of equip­ment, cleaning services and clever strate­gies to save energy.” Together, the part­ners set about taking measures to reduce DFI’s envi­ron­mental foot­print.

The DFI Retail Group oper­ates 10,600 super­mar­kets in Asia and aims to be carbon neutral by 2050. A big task for Group Facil­i­ties Manage­ment Director Jon Abel (in the blue suit).

Super­mar­kets are an energy-inten­sive busi­ness, with refrig­er­a­tion and air condi­tioners consuming a large propor­tion of the elec­tricity. “Here in Asia, it’s very hot all year round with high humidity. We have to combat these envi­ron­mental condi­tions on a daily basis so that we can keep the temper­a­ture in the refrig­er­ated display cases at a constant zero to four degrees Celsius and as low as -18 degrees in the freezers,” says Abel. The refrig­er­ator and freezer shelves are there­fore an impor­tant factor in reducing energy consump­tion. “Most of the appli­ances had AC motors, so we decided to replace them with effi­cient EC tech­nology,” explains Chow, who there­fore approached the ebm-papst team in Hong Kong.

An effi­cient motor for cooling

In Hong Kong, Chow met up with Daniel Yiu and Darius Wu, who are very familiar with solu­tions for refrig­er­a­tors and freezers. “Our iQC motor was specially designed for refrig­er­a­tion units and copes very well with the harsh envi­ron­ment that exists there,” says Yiu. The motor is crucial for effi­cient oper­a­tion. It has to run around the clock and drive the fan, which distrib­utes the cold evenly in the appli­ance. If it fails, the merchan­dise is at risk of spoiling. A high level of reli­a­bility is there­fore required. Thanks to EC tech­nology, the iQC motor is much more effi­cient than the older models in the iQ motor series, but is the same size. As Wu explains: “This makes the venti­lation drive ideal for retro­fitting.”   

Click through the retrofit step by step:

It’s 11 p.m. The last customers leave the super­market and the fitters can start work. (Photo | Keith Tsuji)

The employees clear out the shelves and remove the housing. (Photo | Keith Tsuji)

Before the old motor is removed, the tech­ni­cian measures the air flow. (Photo | Keith Tsuji)

The fan is then removed and the old motor taken out. (Photo | Keith Tsuji)

New meets old: the iQC motor has the same mounting points as its prede­cessor … (Photo | Keith Tsuji)

… so it is screwed tight and wired in just a few simple steps. (Photo | Keith Tsuji)

The result can be measured imme­di­ately after use: the air flow is higher and the current consump­tion lower. (Photo | Keith Tsuji)

After a total of one hour, the retrofit on a refrig­er­a­tion unit is complete. Customers don’t notice any differ­ence the next morning when they go shop­ping. (Photo | Keith Tsuji)

A good selling point for DFI and City Facility Manage­ment, as 80 percent of the appli­ances already run on ebm-papst motors. Initially, three super­mar­kets were selected for a pilot project and the old motors were replaced by the new iQC model. Abel and Chow were impressed by the initial measure­ments, which showed that the fans consumed 50 percent less elec­tricity while achieving a better air perfor­mance. “We also inquired with other manu­fac­turers, but none of their solu­tions deliv­ered results anywhere near as good as the iQC,” says Chow.

Retrofit in record time

Due to these good results, Abel and Chow decided to imple­ment the retrofit on a large scale, aiming to replace around 10,000 motors in some 1,000 stores in Hong Kong in just six months. This was no easy task, and not just because of the sheer numbers involved and the tight time budget: “With a project like this, there are many players that we have to coor­di­nate in advance,” says Abel. In addi­tion, there had to be as little disrup­tion to oper­a­tions as possible so that busi­ness could continue as normal. For those involved, this meant working a lot of night shifts as the retrofit had to be carried out outside of busi­ness hours. No sooner had the last customer left than the fitters got to work removing the merchan­dise, replacing the motor and putting every­thing back in the appli­ance. This takes about an hour per refrig­er­a­tion unit. “The retrofit itself is very simple; the old motor is replaced by the new one within ten minutes,” explains Chow.

Darius Wu (right) from ebm-papst Hong Kong was impressed with the iQC motor. EC tech­nology, it is very effi­cient, durable and ideally suited for retro­fitting. (Photo | Keith Tsuji)

Excel­lent energy foot­print

The effort has paid off. In just six months, DFI has already saved 1,270 tons of CO2. This is not only good for the climate, but also for busi­ness, as the bottom line is that this measure has already reduced energy costs by 350,000 US dollars. “The retrofit will have paid for itself in two years,” says Abel. There is also another benefit: thanks to EC tech­nology, the iQC motors have a much longer service life, as brush­less motors don’t wear out due to fric­tion.

DFI has already come a little closer to its own climate target thanks to the retrofit. But Abel and Chow still have a lot to do. More retro­fits for branches in Singa­pore and Malaysia are planned next. “If we can achieve energy savings of 50 percent just by using EC tech­nology, we will take a closer look at all our appli­ances with motors,” says Abel, refer­ring to the air condi­tioners and fan coils that do their work in thou­sands of stores every day.

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