Fridgewize hopes to cool off commercial refrigeration bills
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Refrigeration is not sexy. In fact, it’s so mundane, so basic to our everyday lives, that we hardly think about it.
But consider the following.
First, refrigeration accounts for 15 to 20 percent of worldwide energy usage, according to industry estimates.
Second, modern, highly efficient electronically commutated (EC) motors are now widely available. Such motors can be used to run refrigerator fans up to 80 percent more efficiently than traditional motors when coupled with a fan speed controller.
The fan speed controller allows the fan to slow down and save energy if the fridge is at the correct temperature. If the fridge needs to be cooled more, the fan automatically cranks up.
In the past, such fans just ran at a single speed – high – all the time. For businesses with several refrigeration units, such as food and beverage coolers, that 80 percent energy savings can easily equate to thousands of dollars saved each year.
A new company in Glenwood Springs has the technology that it believes can revolutionize commercial refrigeration and save businesses vast amounts of money.
Brothers Juan and Ryan Grobler of Fridgewize are a pair of friendly, rugby-playing South African entrepreneurs.
“We provide our clients with a free energy audit of their refrigeration systems and give them a proposal that shows what they’re using today and what they’d be using with our equipment,” says Juan, pronounced like the French “Jean.”
“To date, nobody has really been able to quantify the savings. We’ve been able to do that,” he said.
In addition, the Fridgewize team works with utilities and local efficiency groups to understand rebates and incentives that may also assist their customers with implementation.
Fridgewize’s mission is to “save our customers money and to reduce their carbon footprint.”
A recent Fridgewize proposal for a Front Range liquor store spells it out plainly: For a total project cost of $25,512, the store’s utility costs are expected to drop by $15,383 annually, from $17,440 to $2,057, which means the installation will pay for itself in roughly 20 months.
These are dramatic claims. But the company, whose clients include Jamba Juice, Boston Market, Whole Foods Markets and Pizza Hut, has already attracted a number of local businesses as clients.
“I think it has incredible potential,” said Craig Tate, member services representative for Holy Cross Energy. The utility plans to provide rebates for ratepayers who install Fridgewize motors and fan controls in the coming months.
“I do want to see a longer-term study as far as what the actual electrical bills show,” Tate said.
“I’m happy with it. I think it’s a good idea,” said Ken Robinson of Roaring Fork Liquors in Glenwood Springs, who started out skeptical but eventually bought EC motors, fan controls and anti-sweat heater controls. “If it works according to plan, I should get my payback in less than two years.”
Robinson added that his fans are much quieter than before, and the Fridgewize installation was surprisingly quick and easy.
The Aspen Skiing Co. hired Fridgewize to retrofit freezers and coolers at the Little Nell hotel, the Snowmass Club and most of its on-mountain restaurants. The energy-saving EC motors are applicable to virtually any operation with refrigeration needs: hospitals, schools, universities, breweries, morgues, veterinary clinics and even prisons.
But the motors are just one of the products that the company sells and installs.
Other smart items, applicable mostly to food and beverage retailers, include anti-sweat heater controls, night curtains for open-case coolers and freezers, energy-saving LED lights to illuminate food/beverage displays, ethylene filters that extend the life of fruits and vegetables, and zeolite filters that reduce moisture and odors.
Some of these technologies are already in use in other countries and in the post-harvest industry that refrigerates and ships food to market around the United States.
According to the Grobler brothers, however, nobody has yet applied these energy-saving tools to small restaurants, grocers, liquor stores and other retail outlets. They believe they can save most of their clients anywhere from 50 to 80 percent on the energy costs of refrigeration.
“The real market to me is the smaller stuff – we’re helping the mom-and-pops,” Ryan said. “If you stop and think about the number of those old motors out there, it’s staggering.”
To serve this market, Fridgewize has retrofitted a commercial space on South Grand Avenue near the Sunlight bridge and created a training center where, in a three-day course, it will show its growing ranks of sales representatives how to audit refrigeration systems, explain the benefits of the company’s technologies to potential customers, and almost instantaneously produce a detailed numerical estimate.
In addition to a high-tech classroom with leather office chairs and an iPad for each trainee, Fridgewize also has actual refrigeration cases with motors and fans, where trainees can see and touch the hardware they’ll test and replace.
By the end of 2012, the brothers expect to have created 100 new sales jobs.
“Training the agents is the biggest hurdle,” said Juan Grobler. “Everything they will see in the field they can actually see here.”
At this point, the brothers have spent two and a half years researching and fine-tuning their products, and they estimate they’ve tapped about 2 percent of the potential market.
“We’re in the tip of the iceberg phase,” said Ryan Grobler.
If Fridgewize’s local customers are any indication, it appears the Grobler brothers are on to something.
“There’s a good return on investment and when we purchase new freezers and coolers, they’re actually coming with these EC motors,” said Matt Hamilton, sustainability director for the Aspen Skico. “There’s no question about the validity of the savings.”
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