Earlier this year, the FEA warned the industry that refrigeration energy labelling misrepresentation must end. The association was concerned that some dealers and suppliers were displaying pre-2016 appliances for sale in showrooms or on websites from the pre-energy labelling era, an illegal practice.
The Energy Labelling Directive is EU legislation but has been adopted by the UK post-Brexit. Under the regulations, manufacturers must design products that meet the requirements for MEPS (Minimum Energy Performance Standards), and they must provide an energy label showing how the product performs in the standard tests. The label shows its performance, with the best being rated A and the worst G, and the lowest ratings continually being knocked off the scale in an effort to consistently improve energy efficiency.
So with the warnings of regulation circumvention still ringing in the sector’s ears, how widespread is the problem? According to FEA chair, Steve Hobbs: “This is a known issue but, with so many routes to market, it’s impossible to supply an accurate statistic. To be fair, with the challenges of the last 18 months, it has been difficult for suppliers to keep their websites fully up to date and refreshed with current information. What we do know is that the enforcement authorities have been doing desk research to look at compliance.”
The Office for Produce Safety and Standards (OPSS) can impose a financial penalty for misrepresentation relating to the Energy Labelling Directive, without recourse to the criminal courts. OPSS says it will determine the level of the fine based on what they consider to be ‘reasonable and proportionate.’ Failure to pay a fine is likely to result in further action.
So how does non-compliance of refrigerators affect catering equipment dealers? “It has the potential to confuse and mislead the buyer,” said Hobbs. “Consequently, it could lead to reputable dealers losing business to those who are not complying with the regulations.
“All dealers are responsible for displaying the correct label, wherever the product is displayed for sale on their website.”
However, the association does believe that refrigerator manufacturers themselves are producing compliant, efficient cabinets, with Hobbs commenting: “On the one hand, it is mandatory to meet the requirements. At the same time, operators are increasingly interested in both sustainability and saving costs, so they are searching out the most energy efficient models. Manufacturers are responding by developing technologies that meet the market’s needs and surpass the regulation standards.”
FEA detailed that MEPS’ arrival in July 2016 resulted in the catering market’s average energy index (EEI) dropping from 63% to 59% over the 12 months to September 2017. “This trend continues today, with ever more products achieving higher energy efficiency ratings,” reported Hobbs.
Turning to suppliers themselves, Hoshizaki UK’s national sales manager Roz Scourfield notes that there is still an issue concerning refrigerators ducking energy labelling requirements: “There are still pre-2016 cabinets for sale, especially in the lower priced segments. These are normally products imported into EU/UK. A clear indication for this is seen at the different tradeshows across Europe, where several suppliers are showing cabinets without an energy label, or energy data. The effect on business is there, and will continue to be there until this problem is addressed through higher focus from the authorities on cabinets being imported into the EU/UK.”
Hoshizaki prides itself on placing energy efficient performance and environmentally friendly products as a core part of its DNA, even before the Energy Labelling Directive, so Scourfield reported that the only influence this set of regulations had on its design was to ensure cabinets were developed for a certain position on the energy scale. “Keeping up with the change in the labelling scale is not a problem, as it is incorporated into development cycles. More importantly, our products are energy efficient and so do not feature in the lowest classes,” she said.
So are the energy labelling ratings representative of a cabinet’s entire operational energy efficiency? According to Scourfield: “The energy used by a cabinet is influenced by a lot of different factors. Therefore, the important thing is that we have a defined test standard making it possible to compare different cabinets on energy performance. It is clear that the standard could be improved in some places and made easier and more understandable. One core area which needs to change is the difference in energy class on refrigerators versus freezers. It is hard for end users to understand that they cannot get a freezer in energy class A when the refrigerator is available in class A.”
For True Refrigeration, the disparity between the regulations’ enforcement in the UK and EU countries is a concern. According to Scott Jones, sales and key account director for UK and Ireland: “While the testing standards remain harmonised with Europe so far, UK suppliers aren’t subject to the same scrutiny as EU counterparts, who have additional oversight from the European Commission and their European Product Registry for Energy Labelling (EPREL) database registry requirement.
“This year we have seen the introduction of a requirement for glass door and open commercial refrigerator and freezer cabinets to now meet MEPS and carry a label (though different in design to the 2016 label which still applies to other products today). These products require the ‘new style’ A-G scale labels introduced by the European Commission this year, which feature a QR code that, when scanned, takes the consumer directly to a product page on the EPREL system. This is proof to the consumer that the product has gone through all of the necessary verifications, whereas in the UK today, these counterpart labels have a QR code which just points to the manufacturer’s own website, not an official government site.”
Jones detailed that True appreciates the aim of the rules though, commenting: “Energy efficiency has always been important, but since a set standard which everyone is working to has been established, and the results can be compared like-for-like, it has really driven the development of our products forward. True is uniquely positioned as a commercial refrigeration manufacturer, as we are a privately owned organisation which also operates on a global scale. This allows us to invest more than a lot of our competitors in the continual development and improvement of our products.”
And in terms of what the most accurate measure of energy efficiency is, he added: “As part of the discussions we have with clients, we prefer to focus more on the kWh/annum figure stated on the label rather than the EEC letter grade, multiplying the number by the price they pay for electricity to get a monetary estimate of how much one unit will cost to run compared to another, and from that calculate the total cost of ownership over a period of years.”
At Lowestoft-headquartered Adande Refrigeration, executive chairman and CEO Nigel Bell believes that more education is needed on the labelling issue: “There is still a widespread lack of appreciation by end users and some distributors of the information provided on energy labels. As a result, the focus on the energy label during the purchasing process is not sufficient to obtain the full benefit of this regulation. Hence there is a significant flow of unlabelled refrigeration equipment into the UK market. We believe this must be addressed by the UK government.”
As to how to solve the problem, he suggested: “The hospitality and equipment manufacturer organisations in the UK need to work closely together to both educate the many end users and their buyers on the meaning of the labels and to promote use of only those units that have labels.
“Given the seriousness of and urgency to address climate change, we believe that the government must also take effective actions immediately to both encourage manufacturers to sell and end users to buy the most energy efficient equipment as well as to dissuade them from selling and buying equipment that is not energy efficient.”
Adande’s own portfolio rates in the upper echelons of the efficiency labelling scale, with Bell underlining: “Adande Refrigeration has always designed equipment with sustainability as a core principle. Our unique insulated drawer units are the most energy efficient drawers. Our units were the first in Europe to be labelled A+. We have now added low energy, open, multideck display cabinets to our product range. The Adande Sarma cabinet powered by our Aircell technology has been sold with an energy label in the UK since the labelling came into effect earlier this year.”
Fellow British manufacturer, Precision Refrigeration, is more cautious when it comes to analysing how prevalent the problem of non-compliant cabinets is. MD Nick Williams said: “It could be that some suppliers haven’t updated the information displayed on their marketing materials or website, but I very much doubt they still have stock of pre-2016 to supply. The industry’s bounce back from Covid-19 has resulted in huge stock shortages, so I’d be very surprised if anyone has any older pre-2016 stock left.”
He acknowledged how the regulations had influenced Precision’s own product development, detailing: “The Energy Labelling Directive has had a tremendous impact on the design of our products. As recently as when our business started in 2008, our primary focus was to make a product that maintained the correct temperature in the busy and hot kitchens they are designed to work in. I’m ashamed to say that back then, we had little consideration for how much energy the product used – it just had to work well.
“As time went on, and we started learning of the Energy Labelling Directive, we obviously shifted focus to incorporate energy consumption. The result has been tremendous, with energy consumption of some models being reduced by 80% compared to our original products made back in 2008.”
Precision is keeping up with the requirements as the lower letters are knocked off the MEPS scale now, with Williams revealing: “This is a great mechanism to ensure manufacturers continue to strive for energy efficiencies. We did have to cut some freezer counter drawer options from our product offering back in 2016 when the Directive first came into force. This proved extremely unpopular with certain customers who still wanted to buy them regardless of how much energy they consumed.”
Elsewhere, at Liebherr GB’s business and industry appliance division, national sales manager Stephen Ongley emphasised: “Liebherr has always strived to design its refrigeration models to use the minimum amount of energy whilst offering the maximum cooling and freezing potential.
“This is achieved from the careful design of the refrigeration systems using over 60 years of experience in the building and designing of our refrigeration models. In addition, our extensive research and design centre has enabled us to gauge the performance and energy efficiency of Liebherr models in comparison with our key competitors.”
He underlined: “All Liebherr refrigeration models are in the upper scale for energy performance. The continued drive to develop more efficient models is key to staying at the forefront of refrigeration technology and supporting national and global targets to reduce the impact on our environment.”
Ongley analysed how indicative he feels the energy labelling ratings are of actual operational performance for refrigerators, saying: “The individual location will determine the amount of energy used (ambient operating temperature) in conjunction with the number and duration of door openings. It is important to take note of the climate class and net capacity when comparing different models and brands. The individual appliance’s efficiency can also decrease over time unless regular maintenance is undertaken (condenser cleaning etc.).
“Also important is safe food storage and this is determined by internal temperatures, making the refrigerator easy to clean, and the capability of the cabinet to operate in high ambient temperatures with numerous door openings. Liebherr has really worked hard on the latter and Liebherr’s commercial appliances are sold around the globe and operate in tough, hot conditions with great temperature control and temperature recovery.”
Over at Electrolux Professional, design and product manager Steve Bowler feels: “One of the key influences of the Energy Labelling Directive has been the provision of a more definitive criteria against which the capacity of a refrigeration cabinet can be measured. From Electrolux Professional’s perspective, this has allowed us to design the interior of the cabinet in a way that increases storage capacity within the standard footprint of the unit.
“Equally, it has focused attention on improving efficiency of refrigeration units. Until the directive, there was no real way of directly measuring efficiency of equipment against competitors. Now, units can be compared like for like, which helps to create a culture of competitive improvement, ultimately increasing efficiency levels across the industry.”
While he notes that the testing methodology ensures results are highly representative of a cabinet’s operational energy efficiency, he added: “There is an argument to be made that it is too rigorous for many environments. For example, a school would not use a cabinet frequently throughout the entire day, plus the units tend to only be used for 38 weeks of a year. Combined with the fact that kitchens can vary drastically in temperature, it highlights how strict the ratings are.
“Ultimately, the Energy Labelling Directive is a way to ensure refrigeration is an energy efficient as possible. This is important for industry, and encourages manufacturers to focus on improving the environmental credentials of their equipment.”
Maintaining the seal
Kitchen services specialist Filta Environmental believes it has another solution to ensuring the energy efficiency of refrigerators, as the company recently launched a new professional Seal Cleaner – a ready-to-use solution for the cleaning and maintenance of commercial fridge seals.
Edward Palin, commercial director for Filta Group, said: “A split, worn or broken fridge seal has a significant impact on the cooling capacity and energy consumption of the unit, not to mention compromising hygiene and food safety. Without a proper seal, the fridge or freezer will ‘leak’ cold air, which causes the cooling compressor to run more frequently or even continuously in order to keep the cabinet content at the set temperature. With support from Filta, operators can both extend the lifetime of their commercial fridge seals and replace seals more effectively if needed.”
Palin feels the benefits stack up: “Seal Cleaner can extend the lifetime of seals by removing fats and food spills that would cause the seal to dry out and get brittle. It will also maintain kitchen hygiene and food safety, helping to prevent micro-organisms and bacteria from entering the food storage compartment.
“Aggressive cleaning agents such as all-purpose cleaners, sanitisers, oven cleaners and degreasers can cause irreparable damage when used on fridge seals. With Filta’s solution, simply remove any debris with a cloth, apply the ready-to-use cleaner with a spray bottle or clean cloth and leave for 30 seconds before wiping dry.”