Countdown’s lead engineer, Greg Lewis, is putting natural refrigerants at the forefront of efforts to reduce energy consumption in new fully integrated stores. His success in New Zealand may lead to the wider deployment of CO2 systems in the rest of the country and Australia.

Countdown operates 184 supermarkets in New Zealand. Progressive Enterprises, part of Australian group Woolworths Limited, owns Countdown and is also the franchisor of the Super Value and Fresh Choice supermarkets (representing a further 62 stores around New Zealand).

Lewis speaks of having the resources now to ‘pull everything together’ in a comprehensive manner: from installing LEDs in all stores to changing the AC systems, and most importantly, transitioning the company’s refrigeration portfolio. “We’ve been doing some serious work on our refrigeration systems over the last six years with the hybrid [CO2] systems and now we’re taking that next step to pull everything into one [CO2 transcritical] system.”

The aim for 2020 is to open or retrofit at least 10 CO2 transcritical stores per year while Lewis expects there to be 250 systems in the whole of New Zealand.

Countdown’s new integrated stores as a testing ground

When Lewis spoke to Accelerate Australia & NZ, Countdown was planning to install its first transcritical CO2 plant in a refurbished store as part of its ambitious retrofit programme. Its Glenfield, Auckland store is set to become Countdown’s first fully refurbished CO2 transcritical store.

Aside from Countdown’s first CO2 transcritical store at Cable Car Lane in Wellington (2016), the company is in the planning and design stages of a further six transcritical stores, of which five are expected to be completed in 2017, including the Glenfield refurbishment.

Moreover, Countdown has been increasing its store share of cascade CO2 /R134a plants since 2008, with 47 new stores completed and five currently in construction. “We’ve been very determined,” says Lewis, who sees great scope in retrofitting the company’s fleet of stores still using harmful HFCs like R404A and R22 (92 in total). “There’s definite potential to retrofit these HFC stores,” confirms Lewis, using either a cascade system or leapfrogging straight to CO2 transcritical systems.

However, the transition needs to be manageable. “We still have plant systems that are 10 years old, and hybrid systems the oldest of which are 7-8 years old, so we will utilise the shelf life of these systems for another 10-12 years or so.”

Sustainability in the blood

A self-professed ‘fridgie’, Lewis understands the balancing act required to install the best system for a given store while reducing the impact on the environment. “Most fridgies are passionate about working with refrigeration and I’m maybe not as passionate about that ‘nuts and bolts’ side of the operation but I am very passionate about developing strategies to achieve our sustainability goals, that’s what really interests me,” he says.

New Zealand has a long history of promoting innovation and fostering environmental stewardship. For evidence, look at its 100% Pure New Zealand ad campaign from recent years with pristine turquoise waters lining breathtaking mountainscapes.

“I think it’s really important. Just about every Kiwi you ask will tell you that it (the environment) is a very important topic to them,” he says. “They like this whole green, clean image because that’s how New Zealand markets itself to the world and Kiwis are really proud of that.”

Lewis is adamant that goal-driven collective attitude carries over to the country’s HVAC&R sector.

“I think traditionally supermarkets have been painted as the bad boys who don’t really care about the environment but we actually do, we think a lot about how we design stores and how we put it together,” he says.

Juggling suppliers

Part of the juggling act for Countdown is supporting the smaller suppliers in New Zealand while trialing systems from established global manufactures entering the market.

The company has installed one SCM Frigo transcritical unit and plans a further four Green & Cool units. Heatcraft and Bitzer are among the other supliers vying for business as Countdown seeks solutions for its planned transcritical stores at Glenfield and Wellington Central.

“We can buy these systems off the shelf in Europe.

Greg Lewis, lead engineer, Countdown 

“We don’t mind trialling a range of suppliers but we just want a similarly specified system. We’ve got an SCM Frigo unit, we’ve got some Green & Cool and we’d like to see Advansor units, we’d like to see the Heatcraft solution, Bitzer…”

“We have Engie Refrigeration and McAlpine Haussmann systems, our two main local service contractors and installation contractors, and we see some smaller local contractors that we’d like to help because it will help us down the track as well.”

Lewis confirms it’s been exciting to see the level of interest from global suppliers. “Some of these big players, when you look at the numbers, are making two transcritical racks a day. Green & Cool are building around 47 a week. That SCM Frigo unit came down and we turned it on and it just started running like that!”

“We can buy these systems off the shelf in Europe and we’re looking to them as the people who can help us achieve what we want to achieve.”

Click here to read the full version of this story in the spring edition of Accelerate Australia & NZ.