5 ways retailers can improve retail store energy efficiency

Rising energy prices and the effects of climate change are increasingly prompting UK retailers to address the challenge of steadily improving energy efficiency in their stores.

One key requirement for the operation of modern retail outlets is a secure power supply. Providing a broad assortment of products, offering fresh foods daily and creating sophisticated shopping environments entail a high energy demand.

The reduction of operational costs is the main incentive for a company to reduce energy consumption. As the cost of energy continues to rise, energy efficiency provides opportunities for offsetting increasing energy prices. We estimate average potential savings of around 16% of annual electricity consumption and 5% of gas consumption for the commercial sector and 10%-15% for energy-intensive manufacturing. Some of our case studies suggest larger reductions are feasible in many instances.

On average, three quarters of the total energy demand of a sales outlet account for power consumption.

The electricity is mainly used for lighting, air conditioning and food refrigeration. Add to this the energy required for heating the sales floor and for water heating.


Good store design and attractive presentation of merchandise are increasingly becoming factors in competitiveness. How lighting is used in a shop can play a decisive role, in particular in the textile and furniture sectors. Moreover, legislation concerning the lighting of retail areas must be observed to prevent accidents to customers and employees.

Building controls

Ventilation systems

Most retail stores use ventilation systems to ensure air exchange which is mainly required for hygienic reasons. The ventilation systems that provide for a continuous inflow of fresh air are driven by powerful electric motors. On average, these systems can run for over 2,000 hours per year. Owing to the store opening times, which vary considerably across the UK retail sector, the corresponding power consumption shows variations.

Heating/air conditioning (HVAC)

Today’s customers take it for granted that store environments will have a comfortable temperature. In addition to energy consumption for heating during winter time the rising average temperatures in UK also result in increased operating hours for air conditioning systems.

Food cooling and refrigeration

The stringent requirements of European food law and the rising customer demand for convenience and fresh products call for extensive food refrigeration. The refrigeration of fresh and frozen products accounts for up to 50 percent of the energy consumption of a shop which deals mainly in food. Irrespective of whether the stores are equipped with stand-alone refrigeration units or refrigeration systems, maintaining the cooling chain and thus the product quality 365 days per year, 24 hours a day, always involves high power consumption.

Behaviour of staff and employees

The energy efficiency of a retail store is mainly defined by the technical equipment used and the building itself, but the behaviour of owners and employees also plays a role, although minimal.

The energy consumption of a retail outlet may vary considerably depending on the format and segment.

Food retailing accounts for the highest specific consumption owing to the high power consumption for food refrigeration and merchandise presentation in the fresh produce area.

Given the smaller size of cooled areas and the slightly less sophisticated shop lighting, wholesale formats with a focus on food require somewhat less power than comparable retail formats. The lowest power consumption is found in non-food formats such as DIY and furniture stores. Improving energy efficiency, especially in the field of building and technical services, would appear to be particularly reasonable for retailers in view of the high share of power consumption.

Also the internal distribution of the energy demand varies strongly among different store formats.

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