While energy efficiency would seem an obvious concern for cold storage providers, some in the industry say that costly inefficiencies are still common.

According to Ted Kohlenberger, California team leader for National Resource Management Inc., Canton, Mass., many providers still operate on old, inefficient systems.

“There’s a hole of misperception that ‘This is how we’ve always done it.’ Well, nobody has shined a light on the problems with that method,” he said.

“Customers, they’re buying cold, not refrigeration. They don’t know how it behaves or misbehaves. They don’t think about, ‘Am I getting good value for the money I’m spending?’ It’s like they’ve been driving without a dashboard.”

There are a number of options for companies looking for ways to reduce costs and increase profitability.

Although alternative methods for “green” energy exist, many in the industry are overlooking simple changes they can make to their current systems.

“Solar seems to be one of the sexiest topics, but there’s many other practical ways to save energy without the significant up-front cost of solar installation,” said National Resource Management Inc. president and founder Emre Schveighoffer.

Since energy use is one of the last variable costs to be controlled and reduced, Schveighoffer’s company focuses on educating customers on refrigeration.

To that end, they developed an elaborate but user-friendly refrigeration unit monitoring system to optimize performance.

Clients can check current statuses, past performance, operating system history and receive alerts on their smartphones when components fail.

“Our system tracks data to our server, so things can all be tracked and coordinated,” Kohlenberger said. “You get a table of zones, percent run time, number of starts for compressors, compressor amps, history of usage — all these little things that can be indicators of a problem. People often have no clue there’s a problem, because no ‘check engine light’ has come on.”

Not only does this reduce costs, but better temperature control and data management can enhance food safety as well, he said.

In addition, energy savings may result in an extra payment from utility companies.

In Nevada, for example, there is a commercial incentive program called “Sure Bet” which pays commercial customers for reducing their bills.

For example, if a refrigerated storehouse consumes 10,000 kWh per year and by retrofitting it, the annual energy consumption is lowered to 6,000 kWh, Nevada Energy may pay up to $.03/kWh for that 4,000 kWh difference.

“If a customer installs a more efficient refrigeration system, then Nevada Energy pays a one-time incentive based on the first year annual savings,” said Robert Dally, renewable energy program manager with the Nevada Governor’s Office of Energy. “The utility (pays) for energy efficiency. Of course, the customer also gets the benefit of a lower yearly bill due to the energy savings itself.”

Still, for Kohlenberger and Schveighoffer, the biggest battle often is simply teaching customers about their current inefficiencies.

“Many customers haven’t been educated. Service contractors sometimes make it seem complicated. We’re about enabling and enlightening the owner, people who actually pay the bills,” Schveighoffer said.