Going Inside the Grocery Industry with Nick Barhorst

Erin Fitzgerald

I recently sat down with Nick Barhorst to learn more about his background and the path that brought him to be an energy manager at Ecova.

Nick is a veteran of the grocery industry. Beginning at age 15, Nick worked for Kroger in a variety of positions―clerk, store manager and operations. Nick eventually transitioned to a role in the Facility Engineering department as a project manager, maintenance manager, and then an energy manager. He received an undergraduate degree in civil engineering from the University of Cincinnati in 2009 and a MBA from the University of Phoenix in 2012, both of which helped him succeed in the Facilities Engineer group with Kroger and now as an energy manager for Ecova.
nick-barhorst-ecova-energy-managerNick joined Ecova in 2011 and was a natural fit to work with Ecova’s many grocery and convenience store clients. Nick works with Ecova’s clients to help them reduce their energy consumption―he’s an energy problem solver who uses his background in engineering and facilities operations to make recommendations that impact a store’s performance, such has refrigeration issues and lighting.

Nick was quick to reveal that in most supermarkets and convenience stores, 50% of electricity consumption is from refrigeration and freezer units. He said that the biggest opportunities in this area are rather quite simple: switch out the lighting in the units with more efficient bulbs. He recommends that stores replace older lighting with LED (light emitting diode) bulbs, a much more efficient bulb that doesn’t burn as hot. “If you can reduce the heat, you reduce the refrigeration load and ultimately, energy consumption and costs. Refrigeration systems are a huge energy drain and going after this low hanging fruit can have a significant impact on a store’s energy consumption.”

As an energy problem solver, one of the most rewarding parts of his job is doing “outlier investigation,” looking at those sites with the highest use of energy and then making recommendations to help the site perform better. Nick worked with one client to identify energy opportunities at their high use sites and helped save them over $2 million in energy costs over a two-year period. He found that simple lighting changes, such as installing occupancy sensors in backrooms, offices and restrooms resulted in substantial energy savings and contributed the client’s successful energy management program.

Some of the recommendations Nick makes require balancing the customer experience with upgrades that would positively impact energy performance. “Open multi-deck cases” in grocery stores are a perfect example (cases designed to keep product cold without doors). Putting a door on these cases represents a huge energy and cost saver, but can be a hindrance for the customer as they impede quick access to the product; however, installing doors can reduce the refrigeration systems energy use by 40%! “It’s really one of those low-hanging fruit opportunities that companies really should be investing in but are not because of the fear it would impact sales,” says Nick.

While much of his job can be done remotely, Nick does get the opportunity to get out from behind his desk and visit clients’ sites. This can be helpful for understanding how employees use equipment. Often behavioral changes are needed in the grocery store to ensure efficiency procedures are consistent over time. For example, when employees overstock a refrigeration case the product can divert the cold air meant to keep the product cold out of the case, causing the refrigeration system to run longer than needed. Being onsite and talking directly to employees is a great way to solve such energy mishaps.

Having been a veteran of the industry for over 19 years, Nick has seen a lot of changes and progress. Overall he feels that the grocery and convenience store industry continues to see value in energy management and is incorporating strategic initiatives that are positively impacting performance. No longer will it just be a “quick stop” at the grocery store now, I have a feeling that I too will be on the lookout for energy saving opportunities.

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