With the government’s recent Build Back Greener strategy setting out ambitious plans for achieving net zero emissions by 2050, businesses, consumers and industry bodies are now calling for significant carbon reductions to be made in the next decade. Recent changes to legislation such as Part L of the Building Regulations will also mean that building managers and owners of non-domestic buildings are increasingly having to meet stricter regulatory requirements, in order to reach future carbon reduction targets.

This presents an important opportunity to rethink the overall design and operation of buildings in the retail sector, in line with future net zero targets. Going forwards, project managers and senior-decision makers in the retail industry must prioritise adapting their spaces to meet these changing legislative requirements for energy efficiency, without compromising on comfort and safety for shoppers.

Greater focus on the heating, cooling and ventilation equipment installed in retail spaces must be at the centre of this wider shift towards energy-efficient design. However, with the right technology, installers and project managers can increase energy efficiency, drive downcosts and improve overall performance allowing shoppers to enjoy a comfortable, low-carbon shopping experience for years to come.

Considering low-carbon heating

Heating remains one of the UK’s largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions, meaningdecarbonising the way we heat our buildings is crucial if we are to meet future net zerotargets. While there are a growing number of sustainable heating solutions available on the market, technologies like inverter-driven heat pumps are particularly suited for applications in the retail sector.

Inverter-driven heat pumps use a variable speed compressor to control the speed of output depending on the temperature requirements of the building, meaning that large volumes of energy are only used during periods of high demand. This makes it an ideal solution for shops and busy commercial centres where occupancy fluctuates throughout the day. Inverter-driven heat pumps can also be wall-mounted and offer a streamlined, compact design, which operates quietly without disturbing shoppers and employees.

Air curtains that can be connected to heat pumps are also an effective way to reduce long-term service and maintenance costs for this type of technology. These work by restrictingthe outflow of temperature-controlled air, while maintaining the indoor temperature of the shopping outlet. This helps to reduce running costs by lowering the amount of energy needing to be generated, while also protecting equipment from ongoing wear and tear. This allows building managers to operate an ‘open-door policy’ for retail spaces, without compromising on energy efficiency.

Ensuring year-round comfort

Alongside heating, it can also be useful to consider energy efficient solutions for cooling a retail space. This is particularly important in the retail sector, as it can be difficult to regulate the inside temperature of stores and provide a year-round comfortable experience for shoppers.

Technology such as commercial chillers offer an energy-efficient way of cooling a building, by using chilled water to absorb heat, helping to keep stores at an ambient temperature at any one time. They also use far less energy than standard air conditioning units by circulating water from the outside of the building, offering a cost-effective way of keeping stores cool throughout the year.

Heat recovery air conditioning systems like Mitsubishi Electric’s City Multi VRF outdoor units can also provide simultaneous heating and cooling by extracting heat from air drawn from the outside of a building. They can also be connected to up to 50 indoor units, including ceiling cassettes and wall mounted types, making them ideal for medium and large applications in the retail sector. A key example of this was the installation of several City Multi units in Matalan’s flagship store on Oxford Street, which has provided energy-efficient cooling to the store by distributing excess heat from cooling operations, resulting insignificant energy savings of up to 30%.

Focusing on health and wellbeing

While energy efficient heating and cooling solutions have an important role to play in helping the retail sector meet future net zero targets, installers and project managers must also ensure that the provision of good indoor air quality is also considered. This has been particularly emphasised by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the importance of ventilating indoor spaces and the impact of poor-quality air on overall health and wellbeing. With the level of pollutants indoors up to five times higher than outdoors, indoor spaces such as shopping centres are at particular risk of poor air quality if the provision of ventilation and fresh air isn’t prioritised.

Both air conditioning and ventilation are hugely important for improving indoor air quality in indoor spaces. For example, solutions like mechanical ventilation with heat recovery can supply fresh air to indoor areas by extracting stale air from the inside of the building, while retaining the energy used during heating providing a constant supply of clean, healthy air to shoppers, without compromising on energy efficiency.

While installing an entirely new air conditioning system can be disruptive for both customers and employees alike, bolt-on air purifying devices can be easily added to existing air conditioning units. These significantly improve overall air quality by neutralising key indoor air pollutants, including viruses, allergens and bacteria. Their bolt-on technology also means that the device is relatively easy and straightforward to install, offering a cost-effective, convenient solution for installerswhile also providing a comfortable experience for shoppers all year-round.

As the regulatory requirements for non-domestic buildings continue to change and evolve, managers and facilities owners will increasingly have to adapt their operations, building and design accordingly. By selecting the right technology, senior decision-makers, installers and project managers can ensure that the retail sector is not left behind in this wider shifttowards energy-efficient designall while providing a year-round, comfortable experience for shoppers in the long-term.

Author: James Harman, Business Development Manager at Mitsubishi Electric