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Coming in from the cold: Sustainable solutions for the cold storage industry

Like all industries tasked with reducing carbon footprints in line with the Paris Accords, the cold storage and cold chain sectors face considerable hurdles in coming up with sustainable solutions and becoming Net Zero businesses. Not least because of the high levels of energy use involved in the storage and transportation of food.

Around the world, cold storage and cold chains are vital cogs in national economies, helping ensure that fresh, healthy food is kept that way – from initial harvesting and preparation, to storage and distribution. Whether it’s fruit and veg, dairy, meat or seafood, the safe and efficient delivery of carefully harvested and farmed fresh food is essential for business and for citizens’ health and wellbeing.

A double-edged sword

While cold chains minimise food wastage and loss, and mitigate methane emissions, helping to “eradicate the burden of food wastage estimated at almost $1 trillion per year,1 they are also responsible for “a third of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) emissions, or 1% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions1.”  What’s more, in developing countries, cold chain CHG emissions are expected to grow significantly over the next decade and beyond – exacerbating an already difficult problem.

2-4% of total UK GHG emissions comes from food refrigeration

Home truths

Australia, of course, being the hot dry land mass it is, relies on its cold storage and cold chains. Here, refrigeration-related processes such as cooling, freezing, air-conditioning and cold storage are large contributors to carbon-emissions in food-related industries. One estimate suggests that “The total energy spent in the Australian food industry to keep an unbroken cold chain from farm to consumer is about 19,292 GWh/year (or 18 megatonnes of CO2 –e). This indicates that the cold chain of foods (including refrigerated transport) emits the equivalent of approximately 4.3 million cars on the roads each year. 2

Challenges and opportunities

There’s no doubt that in order to deliver sustainable economic, environmental, and social outcomes, “A net zero cold chain requires an ecosystem of policy, regulation, wider logistics, and energy system development, as well as efficient producer and consumer behaviours. 1 Some of the challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve this, include:

Challenge: lack of regulation. In terms of standards in design and maintenance of cold storage buildings, leading to energy inefficiency.   

Opportunity: cold storage benchmarking. In July 2022, NABERS (the National Australian Built Environmental Rating System) introduced its Accelerate program, to provide for data benchmarking energy use. Over the last 20 years, NABERS has shown that “what gets measured gets managed”, with customers saving an average of 30-40% on their energy over 10 years.  

In addition, AIRAH (The Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air conditioning and Heating) has released best practice/solutions for design and commission of buildings, suggesting that future cold storage buildings can be much more energy efficient and sustainable.

“NABERS ratings have helped save 7 million tonnes of CO2 emissions and over AU$1 billion in energy cost savings for building owners3.”

Carlos Flores, Director NABERS, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment

Challenge: electrically intensive. Energy Action estimates that 85% of facility energy consumption is from refrigeration.4   

Opportunity: electrification work is already done. The challenge is to make the use of energy more efficient and cost effective – particularly given today’s high energy prices – with fewer emissions. 

15%+ energy saving

SWIRE COLD STORAGE, AUSTRALIA’S LEADING REFRIGERATED WAREHOUSE PROVIDER, WITH A FLEET OF 220-PLUS VEHICLES AND 17 FACILITIES OCCUPYING 73 MILLION CUBIC FEET, INTRODUCED NEW VARIABLE SPEED DRIVE TECHNOLOGY TO ITS ROTARY SCREW COMPRESSORS, REDUCING ENERGY CONSUMPTION BETWEEN APRIL AND SEPTEMBER BY MORE THAN 15%.5

- Annual reduction in carbon pollution of about 840 tonnes
- Savings of around 786 megawatt hours p.a.

Challenge: renewable energy purchasing is not well understood.

Opportunity: using renewables for energy supply will significantly reduce energy costs and emissions. From battery to solar, wind power to hydro, renewable energy is the driving force towards sustainability. Not only is renewable power cheaper than conventional fossil fuel power,4 it’s gradually replacing coal and gas in total energy supply. For example, as part of the overall Net Energy Metering (NEM) capacity, it’s forecast that solar and battery will increase by over 75% from 2025-20494.

100% of energy generated on-site

In California, Lineage Logistics, the world’s largest temperature-controlled industrial REIT and logistics solutions provider, has installed a 3.3MW solar array and 460kW of linear generators at its Colton Agua Mansa facility, allowing it to generate 100% of its energy consumption on-site6.

- 8,426 individual solar panels
- Generating an estimated 5.4 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of clean energy annually

Act now to make an impact tomorrow

Energy Action has helped thousands of businesses across multiple industries make the transition to sustainability and Net Zero. (We achieved Net Zero ourselves this year.) Energy Action’s services include:

Solar auctions: Through our solar auction platform you can quickly and easily get the right solar solution, at the best possible price, and select the right purchasing method for you. Installing solar will save your business considerable sums while lowering your emissions and reducing dependency on the grid.

Net Zero transition: Energy Action has a proven five-step process to help your business make the transition to Net Zero:

STEP 1: Measure your usage and emissions: you can’t improve what you don’t measure.

STEP 2: Lower your costs: use the measured data to establish areas for improvement.

STEP 3: Consider your emission reduction options: match your appetite for renewables to your budget and timeline.

STEP 4: Procure at least-cost: let energy retailers, renewable energy producers and/or installers compete to win your business.

STEP 5: Manage: from contract fulfilment to certification management.

For more information on how we can help your metal foundry business reach its Net Zero goals, contact us today.

Sources:

1. Net Zero cold chains for food: A discussion document on the case for philanthropic action. September, 2020.

2. Chain of Thought: The newsletter of Food Chain Intelligence. food-chain.com.au

3. NABERS Cold Stores fact sheet  

4. Energy Action Cold Chain Webinar

5. Cast study – Swire Cold Storage. Office of Environment & Heritage

6. Eco Voice: Lineage Logistics Announces its First Cold Storage Facility to Produce 100% of its Energy Consumption On-Site.     November 11, 2021.

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