Cold at energy crisis times

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Life Cycle Assessment

Efficiency was a shared goal, then the growth of energy prices and finally the global crisis arrived. Today saving on consumptions is much more than a virtuous action for the portfolio and the environment, it is a need to avoid generating an impact of hardly manageable proportions on costs that refrigeration involves in each applicative, industrial, process, commercial or service sector. However, are we sure that efficiency resides “only” where we have researched it until now?

The problem is under the eyes of the world. While the petrol price literally disrupts sectors like logistics, there is not so much attention on the seriousness that the increment of the costs of the primary energy raw material in use in our Country implies for all that concerns the cold production.

All that has been delayed until now appears as urgent, because there will be no room for bills that doubly affect costs compared to what happened in the past, under penalty of suspension of production or provisioning of the service.

The risk is precisely this, that the refrigeration cost can generate what we have already seen in other production sectors, such as foundries or steel mills, the choice between producing unprofitably or to stop producing. However – we state it again – the cold chain cannot be stopped, because requirements like food or health ones cannot be fulfilled without the essential collaboration of the refrigeration.

A vertical holistic approach
Today a collaborative logic is necessary, putting the compatibility and the osmosis with energy problems the plant will have to face at the core of design, installation and maintenance.

… and horizontal!
What does the refrigerating unit produce? Cold, certainly, but also recovery heat, therefore it is almost mandatory to think of the refrigerating unit’s function no longer in unidirectional, but almost in sprawling modality: heating and refreshing, sanitary hot water are “products” that cannot and must not be considered outside the cold world.

And where is efficiency?
Another fine question, because it implies an answer that will make more than one turn up their noses: today efficiency and then the energy saving pursuit can no longer be almost exclusively focused on the refrigeration plant, because it must be implemented, and then built and controlled, on the whole plant, for instance in the case of the commercial refrigeration on ducts, cells, benches and other peripheral elements.
Moreover, each drop of operation pressure is compensated by compressors’ more work, so that we are in the condition of saying that each loss, each porosity, each kilo of gas reintroduced into the circuit is not only a cost in terms of gas, but also a hidden cost of higher consumptions and more plant wear.
Anyway, is that all? No, on the contrary, we have just started: a theme we will go on unceasingly reaffirming is that – still thinking of commercial refrigeration as example but not only –precisely the cold conservation in the refrigerated environment, at normal temperature or frozen at low or very low temperature, determines efficiency, so that the construction of the cell or of the environment is as fundamental, as well as the insulation of materials and the tightness of doors and hinges as well.

Life Cycle Assessment
The Life Cycle Assessment estimates the energy consumption variable in the plant service life and allows comparing available technologies and choice options in aware manner, because it is framed in a macro-system of costs that pertain to design, machine manufacturing, installation, management, maintenance and disposal.

Using electronic to decrease electric
You may even consider it a call to arms, but it is almost mandatory to deem the Industrial Internet of Things as the best ally of energy efficiency. The electrical consumption control according to a Life Cycle Assessment vision does not need generical assessments and mathematical averages calculated on large numbers, but – especially in complex and energy-eating plants – a constant monitoring able to support both the predictive maintenance and the management of the residual life of either single components or of complex wholes.
It is trivial to say that, but a reporting in paper format will never provide concretely information about the efficiency of a plant or a peripheral unit of the plant, the target will be hit only by a system that delivers data in real time and is provided with algorithms able to give a functionality trend and indications of expected optimal life time.
Today the cost in the adoption of these systems is even lower, according to industrial accounting, because it is optimized and amortized much more rapidly owing to the higher cost of the electric energy saved through the use of sensors, transmission systems, processing algorithms and consequent operational behaviour models.

Using cold while saving
However, no saving can take place without users’ collaboration. From the door of the refrigeration cell left open to the incorrect bench loading, from the purely emergency maintenance to the missing compliance with the management rules of an engine room, today maintenance technicians and “end” users are made strongly responsible for a conscious use of the resource they are exploiting and this is all the more mandatory the clearer the additional cost, and its weight on the prices we pay for all kinds of goods, food, pharmaceutical or technological.