Why agri can lead the way for the refrigeration industry

By Dawie Kriel, head of EP Refrigeration (a division of Energy Partners and part of the PSG Group)

In terms of trends in South Arica’s refrigeration sector, one of the most notable shifts that we have witnessed of late, has been the uptick in demand for refrigerated space in the agricultural sector.

EP001 webSchoonbee Estate automated cooling installation; owned, operated, and maintained by Energy Partners.
Image credit: Energy Partners

In this case, it is the increased production of high-value products, such as grapes, cherries, nuts, and the like, that has seen tremendous expansion, despite the current recession. In regions like the so-called Golden Mile that runs through Groblersdal, new large-scale installations have begun to take off, and EP Refrigeration is currently involved in quite a number of new operations. In addition, stricter regulations in terms of temperature control for phytosanitary reasons have placed turnover pressure on current refrigerated space.

With some products fetching a significantly higher price, there is good reason to invest more capital for the better technologies that have been somewhat slower to take off in other industries, such as retail. As a result, the demand from this market has most notably been for advanced control and information systems; technology such as hydro-cooling plants; and integrated systems that include renewable energy solutions.

The agricultural sector is also increasingly being motivated to find ways of reducing their overall reliance on grid-based power due to poorly maintained infrastructure and limitation of the distribution network in certain areas.

Agriculture is also driving the move towards ‘greener’ technologies through the adoption of more environmentally friendly refrigerant gases.

While customers in this industry, in the past, have been partial to owning and managing their own refrigeration infrastructure, the demand for long-term reduction in energy consumption and hassle-free operation has also driven more of these customers to outsource their refrigeration needs. Whether they prefer outsourcing the management and maintenance of plants that they own, or through refrigeration purchase agreements, the companies in this sector have identified outsourcing agreements as the only way to guarantee that their refrigeration is at maximum efficiency and availability at all times.

Agriculture is also driving the move towards ‘greener’ technologies through the adoption of more environmentally friendly refrigerant gases. However, it is important to note that clients in the developed countries face much stricter regulations in terms of carbon emissions, and this pressure is transferred to the South African agricultural sector. 

Even in 2018, the sad fact is that the vast majority of refrigeration systems in South Africa use older type synthetic refrigerants, which means that they have a fairly significant impact on global warming. Of course, this is due to the fact that the vast majority of refrigeration systems operating in the country are old systems. Leakages are also a major concern since 1kg of synthetic refrigerant has the equivalent global warming potential (GWP) of between 1 300kg and 4 000kg of CO2.

Many of the new, cutting-edge systems typically being introduced in the country’s agricultural sector today, are optimised to use natural or low GWP synthetic refrigerants that have very low or zero GWP. However, even the carbon footprint of older systems is being reduced through improved maintenance and management models, since dedicated service providers are becoming more adept at containing costs by decreasing refrigerant losses throughout the system.

All said, the next year may see an even tougher landscape for the refrigeration industry before the economic sentiment changes in many sectors of the industry. However, the high-value products in the agricultural industry may just provide the continued stimulus that refrigeration needs to evolve better solutions, and when high-volume industries, such as retail, see growth again, service providers like us can be ready with better, tried and tested systems.

Click here to read the November 2018 issue of Cold Link Africa


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