I recently joined leading grocery retailers and HVACR professionals in Baltimore at the FMI, The Food Industry Association’s Energy & Store Development Conference (E&SD).

As always, E&SD is a welcomed opportunity to learn from industry experts about emerging trends and discuss hot-button issues. Over the course of presentations, panels, and one-on-one conversations, several recurring themes emerged about the current state of HVACR and the grocery industry.

  1. Refrigerant transition is top-of-mind. The industry appears to be embracing the change, taking the mandate for phasedown responsibly and seriously. As FMI’s Andy Harig remarked, we need time to phase down the right way and make smart decisions. Rushing phasedown makes it more difficult to make capital investments, install new systems, and train the next generation of technicians. We don’t want to have to revisit solutions and retrofit systems several years down the line.

  2. Regulatory uncertainty is challenging. From phasedown implementation to the significant and increasing focus on PFAS, the industry needs clear guidance to effectively plan for the future. Copeland’s Jennifer Butsch compared inconsistent definitions and regulations of PFAS, and noted that not all PFAS are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic. Read more about the dangers of rushing to restrict PFAS. She also noted that noted that OEMs need certain PFAS for lubrication, seals, and gaskets necessary to prevent leaks.

  3. Industry innovation is promising. As we consider the range of options for meeting our sustainability goals and HVACR needs, the industry continues to transform. Singh 360’s Abtar Singh shared new research showing real promise for new generation ACTs. In several case studies of energy performance across different retailers in different geographies, HFC’s outperformed CO2 by 16-25% on an annual basis.

  4. CO2 refrigerants have limitations. While a number of presentations addressed the benefits of CO2, it remains clear that this refrigerant option has many drawbacks. The industry lacks data on its performance, experiences leaks and improperly designed systems, and faces a shortage of trained workers. To meet our goals, we need to have access to a range of other coolant options, including low-GWP HFCs, HFOs, and blends. For more on the limitations of CO2, see this explainer video.

  5. Technician training is critical. To responsibly support this transition, we need to train and develop a new generation of technicians. Long hours and emergency service calls are among the challenges to recruiting new skilled workers. Hussman’s Jay Welhu and Clay Rohrer reported that there are 110,000 unfilled HVACR technician jobs currently–28% of the numbers we need. At the same time, new technologies require new training. Last year, we spoke with Paul Anderson, VP of Design for H-E-B about the importance of training: Bottom line: technician training and availability is extremely important because an unserviceable system is an unaffordable system.