Thursday, November 30, 2023

Decarbonising the energy intensive food and drink industry: technologies for lower emissions and greater energy savings

Stuart Little, Business Development Manager at Powerstar

Energy issues faced by the food and drink sector are potentially hard to balance. Stuart Little, Business Development Manager at Powerstar, considers two main priorities and explains how Voltage Optimisation technology and modern transformers are helping businesses – both retailers and manufacturers – to achieve the objectives of lower carbon emissions and reduced energy spend.

Food retailers have a clear need to decarbonise and prioritise net zero – the public expect it and the majority of consumers would prefer to make a difference with an environmentally friendly shop, with 61% considering sustainability more important than it was even two years ago[1].  Food and grocery retailers with strong Environmental, Social and Governance policies will continue to benefit from the power of the consumer’s green pound. 

For food manufacturers, the demand to decarbonise comes directly from supermarkets and grocery retailers now looking to reduce Scope 3 emissions and scrutinising their supply chain accordingly.  But, in a cost of living crisis, the sector is heavily impacted – 30% of consumers would prefer to shop sustainably were it not for the pressure of rising food prices (source as above).  Food is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector (by turnover) and the fourth largest energy consumer with energy costs making up around 15% of total costs for the average food and drink manufacturer.  Yet suppliers must reduce emissions to satisfy their retail customers, while achieving greater energy efficiency to keep costs down and meet the demands of UK consumers.

Reviewing energy management strategies – site profile and energy usage, infrastructure, and assets – can help balance the demand to decarbonise with the imperative to reduce energy spend.  And transformer technology and Voltage Optimisation (VO) offer demonstrable benefits for retailers and manufacturers, alike.

Many UK manufacturers rely on transformers to ‘step up’ or ‘step down’ voltages to required levels and transformers improve both the safety and the efficiency of power systems across a broad range of applications.  But the UK’s transformer fleet is aging, with around three quarters exceeding intended design lifespan.  This impacts on the reliability of the transformer and on its efficiency – as low as 85% for older transformers as compared to modern, low-loss transformers which can achieve energy efficiency ratings of up to 99.75%, with associated carbon emission reductions and cost savings.

VO optimises incoming Grid supply to ensure it best meets the needs of the site.  To meet legislative requirements, typical supply is at a higher voltage than suited to most UK electrical equipment – averaging at 242V, when most UK equipment is rated to operate at 220V.  This overvoltage can damage equipment through unnecessary wear and tear, leading to increased maintenance needs and replacement costs.  The wasted energy from overvoltage creates unnecessary carbon emissions and unnecessary energy spend.

The Co-operative Group and Quorn Foods are retail and manufacturing organisations each known for the emphasis they place on environmental concerns.  As the fifth largest food retailer in the UK, the Co-operative Group has over 2,500 local, convenience, and medium-sized stores.  To reduce carbon emissions and save on energy across a large and diverse estate requires a customised solution and each of the VO units specified by Powerstar is bespoke, to best fit with sites’ individual electrical profiles.  Powerstar were able to guarantee energy savings and compatibility, and provide transparency across projects with dedicated project management and ongoing performance analysis.  Taking one South Shropshire store as an example, the 13.7% average annual energy consumption saving equates to a reduction in energy spend for this one store of over £12,000.

For Quorn Foods, a company committed to achieving net zero for its own operations by 2030, Powerstar’s detailed survey at one site identified two incoming supplies where replacement of the existing transformers was recommended.  A new Powerstar amorphous core distribution transformer with integrated VO has reduced energy consumption by over 10% per annum, equating to more than £70,000 savings on energy bills, and cutting carbon emissions by 365 tonnes per year.

For any UK manufacturer, energy efficiency and the need to reduce carbon in pursuit of net zero are pressing issues.  For food and drink manufacturers, and for their retail customers, they are fundamental concerns.  As consumers’ buying decisions place greater weight on sustainability, retailers must emphasise their commitment to net zero.  Manufacturers, in turn, need to demonstrate the steps they are taking to decarbonise, to keep and secure customer contracts.  In an uncertain economic climate, the capability to lower energy spend while fulfilling these environmental obligations is a win-win for food businesses, both retail and manufacture.

To find out more about Powerstar’s range of energy management technologies, visit

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