Natural refrigerant solutions for retailers in Southern climates were one of the most widely discussed topics at the last ATMOsphere Europe. During this conference R744.com took the opportunity to sit down with Amad Hafez, Equipment Manager of the Modelo Continente Hipermercados, the biggest retailer in Portugal, to talk about Modelo’s first CO2 store in Portugal and the possibilities for CO2 to become the technology of choice in Southern Europe.
R744.com: Has Modelo Continente Hipermercados installed any CO2 refrigeration systems at its stores?
Amad Hafez: Sonae installed its first CO2 supermarket refrigeration system in 2013, at the beginning of October. We are now monitoring the performance of the system on daily basis. This is our very first store in Portugal using CO2 as a refrigerant, in a cascade system that also uses R134a.
R744.com: Can you tell us with which supplier worked with you on this CO2 cascade system?
AH: We worked closely with a company called Sistavac, part of Sonae Capital Group, that operates in Portugal and Spain.
R744.com: How long will this first CO2 store be under evaluation, before a decision is made as to whether to introduce R744 technology to other Sonae stores?
AH: Sonae has been looking into new refrigeration applications already for a while, and CO2 systems caught our attention. We talked a lot with Danfoss about the advantages and disadvantages of this technology and decided to test it out. Our first CO2 store is relatively small, located in Porto. We have since opened three other CO2 stores:
1 small store in Lisbon
1 larger store in Vizela, in the north of Portugal, with a sales area of 2,900 m2
1 larger store in Cacém, in the center of Portugal, with a sales area of 2,900 m2
I would say that Sonae is very open to innovation and new technology but we have to carefully evaluate the performance of CO2 before we decide what commercial refrigeration technology to invest in. We have 195 stores, middle and large sized stores, all of which will need new refrigeration systems at some point in the future.
R744.com: What was the biggest challenge you faced when it came to this first CO2 supermarket installation? Was the biggest challenge to convince top management or did you face any technical difficulties?
AH: The biggest challenge that we faced was the ambient temperature. In the summer of 2013 temperatures reached 44°C! Therefore we had concerns regarding the viability of a CO2 transcitical solution. I am not aware of CO2 transcritical stores in Portugal, although there are at least two in Spain that have opened recently. Therefore, due to the lack of information it was difficult to convince shareholders that CO2 is the best solution, as we do not know how will it perform during summer.
ATMOsphere Europe 2013 has changed my opinion about the available solutions for warmer climates on the market today. And in our understanding warm climate is with outside temperatures around 40°C degrees.
R744.com: How do you see the market for CO2 refrigeration evolving in Portugal?
AH: Currently it is very slow. There are two velocities when it comes to the speed at which the CO2 refrigeration market is evolving in Europe. One more quickly in Northern Europe and more slowly in Southern Europe, so the situation in Portugal it is very different from Northern Europe.
R744.com: We heard during ATMOsphere Europe 2013 that there could be 100 CO2 stores in Spain within 5 years. Could we say the same for Portugal?
AH: No, I don’t see it happening so fast. What we know is that Sonae is the first retailer in Portugal to use CO2 subcritical. When it comes to transcritical systems we do not know how the market with evolve.
R744.com: Does the legislative environment in Portugal promote investment in natural refrigerant technologies?
AH: No. Currently there are no benefits or rewards for investing in green technologies.
R744.com: What is the situation concerning training? Are there service technicians and people that can provide maintenance of these systems?
AH: One of the reasons we started by putting a CO2 system in a small store was to evaluate how the technical personnel manage and adapt to this innovative technology. We want to give them a chance to work on CO2 equipment. If the technology proves successful we will gradually roll-out the technology, and enable personnel to learn and develop their know-how.
R744.com: The decision you made to invest in the first CO2 store, was it part of a bigger sustainability strategy or company’s environment policy?
AH: This decision was based on two reasons – energy savings and our company’s policy. We focus our efforts on minimising our environmental impact and carbon footprint. It is at heart of Sonae's environment policy.