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Whole Foods Market: Customized Utility Incentives for Grocery Sector

Whole Foods Market and Eversource signed a Memorandum of Understanding committing Whole Foods to a specific kWh reduction level across its building portfolio in exchange for increased rebate levels.

Though not a formal policy, it is standard procedure at Whole Foods to reach out to local utilities by phone when considering energy efficiency projects for a store. A conversation, in addition to reviewing incentives that are posted on a utility’s website, can help clarify incentive offerings and any custom accommodations the utility may be able to provide to customers.

Two-Phased Engagement with Utilities and Novel Incentive Agreement

Whole Foods Market had completed a number of energy efficiency projects, taking advantage of standard incentives offered through northeast utility Eversource. The initial successes built an environment of trust between the two organizations. When Whole Foods reached out to the utility to expand and enhance the ways they could collaborate to reduce energy usage at their stores, Eversource responded with the proposal that they enter into an MOU, which fundamentally shifts the way the utility would track incentives to Whole Foods. Instead of tracking one-to-one equipment or light fixture change-outs as most utility incentives do, Eversource would simply offer Whole Foods aggressive and streamlined incentives at a simple, fixed rate per annual kWh for achieving a specific kWh reduction at individual stores. The MOU gave both sides more flexibility in how they reached the reduction goal. The MOU marked a second phase of engagement with Eversource focused on custom energy efficiency solutions. Whole Foods has found this two-phased approach – building trust and confidence with standard incentive projects first, then tackling customized projects – to be an effective means of engagement with utilities.

Developing a Grocery-focused Energy Conservation Package

Whole Foods Market noted that many energy conservation measures (ECMs) incentivized by Eversource focused on commercial office space applications, overlooking grocery-specific ECMs offering significant savings. Whole Foods worked with Eversource to develop a grocery-focused energy efficiency incentive package addressing both new construction and existing buildings. Grocery-specific technologies and strategies approved for incentives include:

  • LED lighting upgrades for refrigerated horizontal cases and walk-in coolers
  • LED lighting upgrades for refrigerated reach-in cases
  • Electronically commutated (ECM) motors for refrigerated cases & walk-in refrigerators
  • Anti-sweat heater controls for refrigerated cases
  • Strip curtains for walk in coolers and freezers to help mitigate cold air spill when the insulated doors are open for operations.
  • Demand Control Kitchen Ventilation (DCKV) – Allows kitchen hoods to match cooking demands with fully variable exhaust and make up airflow rates, and automatically turn down/off when cooking equipment is not in use.
  • Refrigeration System Replacement – upgrading older inefficient rack/condenser systems with modern, low refrigerant charge and evaporatively pre-cooled condensing systems.

Whole Foods also implemented a number of non-grocery-specific upgrades which were incentivized by Eversource including:

  • LED lighting upgrades for sales area/overhead lighting
  • LED lighting upgrades for garage & parking lot lighting
  • High-efficiency roof-top units (RTUs) replace old, inefficient ones
  • Controls upgrades for building systems and refrigeration equipment -- Some acquired store systems were very old; upgrades allowed stores to create night set-backs and optimize equipment start/ stop times.

Future incentive opportunities may include:

  • Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs) on main air handling units
  • Testing the viability of Electronic Expansion Valves (EEVs), which would also allow for super-low head pressure condensing in cold climates
  • Door retrofits for open refrigerated cases
  • Enterprise-wide pilot for performance sub-metering and continuous commissioning.

Confidence in Savings

Utilities want to have confidence that the measures they incentivize will actually return energy savings. For some proposed measures, Whole Foods provided sub-meter data from pilot installations in its stores. Eversource approved other measures in concept based on estimated savings from engineering calculations. Removing the sub-metering requirement for some incentives has significantly streamlined the project implementation process yielding faster energy reductions.

Fast-tracking Incentive Approval

Eversource also facilitated the incentive application process by developing a custom application form, which can be used by customers who are not applying for the standard incentive offerings. Many utilities ask customers to “fit a square peg into a round hole” requiring completion of a standardized application even for specialized incentive proposals, which can cause confusion and extend application processing time. Eversource’s custom form still requires customers to complete basic information, but offers free-form text boxes to gather information about existing and proposed systems and associated energy savings. The form also allows applicants to attach supporting documentation (cutsheets, case studies, savings calculations, etc.). Whole Foods’ energy management staff estimates that the streamlined approval process facilitated by Eversource has reduced project implementation time by 3-6 months, increasing the rate of kWh reduction and reducing administrative time.

Tools

Following the successful collaboration with Eversource, Whole Foods Market has reached out to utilities in markets where energy costs are particularly high or where the utility has a history of activity with incentives and rebates. In some cases, Whole Foods is able to leverage the Eversource incentive package it developed with other utilities to begin the conversation about similar custom incentives.

Whole Foods Market measures the success of its utility collaborations primarily in terms of energy saved at each store location.

Whole Foods Market has completed upgrades at 20 store locations in the North Atlantic region and received over $1 million in incentives from Eversource. Through the partnership alone, the grocer has estimated energy and maintenance savings of over 7 million kWh and $1.2 million annually. The following table details estimated savings from each Energy Capital Upgrade (ECU) project approved and incentivized by Eversource.

 

ECU
Projects

# Stores

Project Cost
($)

Incentives

Annual Reduction (kWh)

Annual Cost Savings
($)

Avg
Annual Savings
per Store (%
kWh)

($)

(%)

EC Motors - Case & Walk-ins

12

377,591

149,910

39.7%

1,348,028

175,244

5.5%

Refrigerated Horiz Case & Walk-in Cooler
LEDs

15

866,705

151,145

17.4%

1,064,139

243,362

3.5%

Refrigerated Reach-In Case LEDs

14

182,127

39,315

21.6%

420,817

70,422

1.5%

Sales Area/Overhead Lighting

16

1,261,829

262,416

20.8%

1,457,988

249,697

4.5%

Garage & Parking Lot Lighting

2

50,829

3,901

7.7%

19,504

22,696

0.5%

Controls Upgrade

13

812,378

327,355

40.3%

2,377,194

309,035

9.0%

Strip Curtains

10

43,510

24,003

55.2%

136,338

17,724

0.7%

HVAC - Munters Unit Replacement

2

228,826

68,466

29.9%

205,489

96,459

5.1%

Refrigeration System Replacement

1

515,102

40,420

7.8%

202,102

68,273

9.9%