Hot weather can play havoc with your chillers and send energy bills soaring. Here are a few pointers to make sure your equipment keeps its cool

Refrigeration costs account for the lion’s share of convenience store energy consumption, sometimes more than 50%, and that figure tends to soar in hot weather.

While there are steps that can be taken to help keep a lid on consumption and ensure that surging energy costs don’t offset all those extra soft drink and ice cream sales, it’s also worth noting that many of these easy to implement measures will also help improve the running of refrigeration equipment and so minimise even more costly and inconvenient chiller breakdowns.

“Hot weather places your refrigeration systems under huge strain,” Ecomonitor managing director Brian O’Hagan explains. “This is apparent from the number of callouts that engineers receive each summer. Higher in-store temperatures force your refrigeration to work harder, but there are ways to help it out.”

A good starting point is to ensure that chillers are running at the correct temperatures in the first place. The Energy Savings Trust recommends that sandwiches are kept at 5°C, produce at 8°C and drinks at 10°C. Every 1°C saved could reduce your energy consumption by up to 2%, the trust says.

Regular temperature checks are also critical in hot weather to ensure that chillers are running correctly and help you identify problems early. For this reason a number of retailers are installing wireless monitoring systems which continuously assess chiller readings, and send alerts as soon as a rise, or fall, occurs.

Londis retailer Steve Bassett, who has such a system installed in his store in Weymouth, Dorset, is still seething after the recent hot weather prompted a chiller in his Southampton store, which didn’t have the system, to fail.

“We recently lost £500-worth of stock when the chiller broke in the middle of the night. If you have monitoring equipment you can see each day if temperatures are getting warmer. It also means you have data to show an engineer if there are issues,” he says.

Sunder Sandher, who has two Londis stores, recently learned that you don’t always need to call a repairman in, as failures are sometimes due to over-heating.

“An engineer showed me if you give the motor time to cool down then lift the lid of the compressor and press the reset button you can often get it started again. It happened to our drinks chiller one morning and we were up and running again within the hour.”

Another handy tip is to ensure that grills aren’t blocked, and that maximum fill lines aren’t overstepped, as blocking air flow can add 3% to refrigeration costs.

Night blinds are also critical, adds O’Hagan, as otherwise your chillers will have to work much harder at keeping perishable goods cold overnight.

Good housekeeping

Turning off drinks chillers during your closed hours can also help keep bills in check. However, in hot weather your chillers may take longer to cool goods, so if you already employ this tactic you might not want to turn them off for quite as long as usual.

Regular maintenance is also key, adds O’Hagan. Biannual servicing of your units, as well as checking that condensers and evaporators are clean, and fans and defrost systems are working correctly, will ensure systems work as efficiently as possible all year round, and will hopefully stave off any nasty surprises when hot weather hits.

O’Hagan warns: “If you don’t maintain your chillers you can be sure that any little problems will make themselves known in the hot weather, and then you’ll have a really big problem on your hands. Compressors that have not been properly maintained will simply wear out.”

The location of chiller cabinets can also have an impact on energy consumption and costs, particularly in the hot weather. While you probably can’t shift your main store chillers around, moving smaller freestanding or branded units away from direct sunlight and warm draughts is advisable. Severe draughts can increase the energy consumption of open-fronted display cabinets by up to 95%, the Energy Savings Trust warns.

While you may have your air-conditioning running at full throttle during the current hot spell, remember all good things come to an end and you’ll need to put levels back to ‘normal’ once air temperatures dip again.

Taking to the shop floor - Npower’s senior managers get hands-on with business customers

As well as helping retailers to find ways that they could save money through better energy management, Npower has been sending its senior management team on to the shop floors across the UK to find out first-hand the challenges their business customers are facing.

Phil Scholes, SME sales and marketing director at Npower, recently kicked off the visits by spending time at Perry Park Stores, Birmingham, owned by Sharan Purewal.

“My time with Perry Park Stores was invaluable and provided real insight into a typical day for multi-tasking store owners,” Scholes says. “I really appreciated the opportunity to see first-hand what their challenges are and how we as an energy supplier may be able to help.

“I first arrived at the store with my ‘energy’ hat on and was immediately struck by the amount of equipment dotted around the store using power. For example, the scanner is just one of many gadgets behind the counter at Perry Park Stores, and another energy-demanding machine is its lottery terminal. Unlike some of the machines store owners can turn off after a day’s work in a bid to save energy, I learnt that this particular piece of technology is one they do not have much control over and it cannot simply be turned off when it’s not needed.

“For me, this highlighted the fact that while more and more businesses are becoming energy aware, when it comes to everyday energy management there will always be factors that are out of their control and more challenging for them to overcome. Therefore, it is crucial that we, as energy experts, work closely with them to identify the measures that can contribute to their bigger saving goals without impacting on their core business activities.

“We’re already supporting Convenience Store’s Pay Less, Use Less campaign, and it’s clear that we can help a lot of businesses to save energy and money. Spending time on the shop floor will go a long way in helping our team continue its development of the right products, solutions and advice specifically designed for our small and medium-sized business customers,” he adds.

To view Phil Scholes’ video diary of his visit, go to